Women’s basketball focusing on themselves heading into Purdue

Tuesday’s Illinois women’s basketball practice ended at 10:15 a.m. That’s 15 minutes earlier than usual.

Less than one week after Jolette Law benched her seniors for practice-related issues, the Illini head coach said practices are the most competitive they’ve been since early January. And she expects that to translate to Thursday’s game at Purdue.

Law said the environment in practice was transformed immediately following Illinois’ 64-48 loss to Michigan last Thursday. In that game, Illinois’ three seniors saw heavily reduced playing time after lacking a sense of “urgency.”

Senior Lacey Simpson said she got her coach’s message after playing just 16 minutes in what was Illinois’ fifth loss in a row.

“After Thursday’s game I did not sleep,” Simpson said. “Not one wink. And I just said, ‘I’ve got to change myself, step up and get it done.’ Me, Jenna (Smith) and (Whitney) Toone were like, ‘We’re seniors, we have to step it up even more.’”

Illinois followed the Michigan game with a 61-48 win over Minnesota on Sunday. As the Illini opened the second half of that game with a 17-0 run, Law said her team’s level of play did not necessarily surprise her.

“I was seeing it for the two practices prior to that game,” Law said.

Law said practice has remained at a high level since the Minnesota game, which could aid the Illini as they head to West Lafayette, Ind.,— where the Boilermakers hold a 24-4 advantage in the all-time series. Purdue leads the overall series 44-16.

But just one week removed from a five-game losing streak, Law said her main focus right now is not necessarily on Purdue.

“We’re worrying about Illinois, we’re not worrying about the next opponent,” Law said.

While the Illlini (12-9, 4-7 Big Ten) will focus on themselves, Law said no team in the Big Ten will be overlooked. She said with the parity in this year’s conference, the “one-game-at-a-time” mentality is especially important.

On Sunday, Illinois was one of five Big Ten teams to upset a conference opponent. Illinois is currently last in the Big Ten standings, yet is just two games behind third-place Purdue (11-11, 6-5).

“Purdue beat Ohio State, but then they came back and lost to Iowa, so it’s just any day a team can come out and beat you,” Smith said.

From this point on, Law will look for the Illini to gain momentum from their own practices as they finish out the conference schedule.

“You walked in the gym, and you knew that gym didn’t seem like a losing gym … We’ve still got a lot of fight left,” Law said.