Smith returns for Illini women’s basketball in Cancun

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Illinois’ Alexis Smith (23) rises to the basket for a layup during the Illini’s win over Indiana at Assembly Hall on Feb. 23.

By By: Stephen Bourbon

While the Illinois women’s basketball team was blown out in two of its three games during the Cancun Challenge, the Illini did get a boost from Alexis Smith.

Smith, a junior point guard, appeared in her first games of the season last week after suffering a stress fracture in her foot in the preseason. Smith averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 assists per game in the three contests. Having Smith back in the rotation adds depth to an Illini team that had been primarily playing only seven or eight players.

“I thought Alexis was a good shot in the arm for us,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “She brings some toughness and another ball handler for us. She can get to the rim and make plays, as well as one of our best on-ball defenders.”

Bollant said Smith is near 100 percent healthy; although, her conditioning still needs work after sitting out four weeks. She replaced Taylor Tuck in the starting lineup in games against Arkansas State and North Carolina.

Illini offense slows down

For a team that entered the week averaging 92.4 points per game, the Illini’s offensive output in Cancun was not up to par.

Illinois had its three lowest scoring outputs of the season during the trio of games at the Cancun Challenge, and it was poor shooting mixed with poor decision making that slowed down the Illinois offense.

In the team’s two losses to Arizona State and North Carolina, the Illini shot 31.8 percent and 28.8 percent from the field, respectively. From behind the line, Illinois couldn’t find the range, as the team shot 8-42 from deep in the combined three games.

“I think we got sped up a little bit against Arizona State and didn’t take great shots,” Bollant said. “We didn’t shoot well from outside.”

While Bollant said he was pleased with the 70 points against “a really good defensive team,” in Arkansas State, he wasn’t happy at all in the team’s two losses. The Illini combined for just 12 assists in losses to North Carolina and Arizona State to 41 turnovers.

Foul trouble limits Illini

Another mitigating factor in the Illini’s trip was foul trouble, specifically with guard Ivory Crawford. The junior guard fouled out against Arizona State and North Carolina, and picked up four fouls in the team’s victory against Arkansas State.

Crawford fouled out in just 16 minutes of play against the Tar Heels and has reached five fouls in three of the team’s eight games so far this season. Crawford has struggled with fouls in her career, as she set the school record last season with 130 personal fouls.

“One big thing for her is to stop trying to steal the ball out of the ballhandler’s hands. If we can get her to change that thing about her game, that would help us a bunch,” Bollant said. “She’s really important to our success, as our second leading scorer.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.