Women’s basketball flies high despite losing Williams

The Illini women’s basketball team is off to a 2-1 start after beating the Central Michigan Chippewas 77-59 on Wednesday.

While the Illini have yet to face Big Ten competition — their only other win coming against Siena — they’ve learned valuable information about themselves.

Head coach Jolette Law, per usual, picked out areas for the Illini to improve. In the wake of a loss against Temple in which her team blew a 16-point lead with 5:51 remaining, Law was displeased with the way her team finished the blowout. The Illini were outscored 28-18 in the final 13 minutes.

“I think we played a good 30 minutes of basketball today. But I was not pleased with the second half. I need to teach my team to play a 40-minute game,” Law said.

“In the second half, we started turning the ball over … I just think we started to get a little lackadaisical.”

One thing the Illini know is that freshman Destiny Williams, rated the No. 1 forward recruit in the nation by ESPN’s HoopGurlz, will not be with the team for an extended period of time. Head coach Jolette Law released a statement before the game saying Williams is on an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

Law said after the game that she doubts Williams, who played for the United States U-19 team this summer, will play in orange and blue this season.

But Williams’ absence didn’t seem to hurt the Illini Wednesday, as it was all about the posts for the majority of the game. Senior center Jenna Smith and forward Karisma Penn combined for 49 points on the evening.

The Chippewas never seemed to have a chance after Penn hit a jumper to put the Illini up 8-0 at the 17:07 mark in the first half. The Illini never led by less than six after that point as they moved to 2-0 on the season.

Macie Blinn was the Illini’s only other scorer above four points as she hit 4 of 7 three-pointers for all of her 12 points.

Blinn didn’t play for the first 13 minutes of the game but seemed to solidify her spot in the rotation, as the Illini look for a consistent shooter that eluded them last year to balance the inside presence of Smith and Penn.

Fortitude was one of Blinn’s weaknesses as a freshman, when the Illini went 10-21, but she hit shots on Friday with the swagger of a seasoned veteran.

“I had confidence,” Blinn said. “What I had last year and what our team went through, I think we all gained a lot from that.”

Yet, however many positives stick out of a blowout game like Wednesday’s, the Illini still focus on their one decided weakness.

“Every time we get a lead, we think we can relax, and we can’t,” Smith said. “It’s just a learning process for all of us and we’ve just got to stick together.”