Women’s Basketball: Smith leads Illini to blowout win

Danny Daly

It’s no secret that Illinois senior Jenna Smith is among the most talented centers in the country. On Thursday night, she reminded Northwestern just how talented she is.

Smith made her first 11 shots and scored 34 points to fuel the Illini’s 81-50 blowout victory over the Wildcats. It was NU’s worst defeat of the season, bringing the Cats’ two-game winning streak to an abrupt halt.

“To quote Pat Fitzgerald, ‘Just flush it and move on,'” coach Joe McKeown said. “They came out on fire, and we didn’t play very well. We did a terrible job of guarding (Smith).”In a matchup featuring two of the Big Ten’s premier post players, NU center Amy Jaeschke also proved why she is considered among the best. The junior tallied a team-high 25 points-half of the Cats’ total output-and shot 8-of-19 from the field.

NU’s biggest problem offensively was its lack of production from anyone else. The rest of the Cats’ starters combined for nine points, with only Jaeschke and reserve guard Meshia Reed making multiple baskets. Illinois’ field goal percentage of 56.1 was nearly twice that of NU.

The Cats’ chances to win were all but finished after the first six minutes. A 21-3 deficit was too much to overcome, and the Illini extended their edge to 43-24 by halftime.

“I can’t really say they stopped us,” Reed said. “We stopped ourselves. We weren’t as aggressive as we should have been.”

Smith outscored NU (14-10, 5-8 Big Ten) by herself, contributing 28 points before intermission in part due to a perfect 5-of-5 mark from the perimeter. In Illinois’ first 23 games, Smith had connected from long range only 16 times.

The Illini sank 8-of-14 3-pointers for the game, while the Cats were 1-of-13 on treys. Though both teams played a relatively sloppy first half, committing 11 turnovers each, Illinois (13-11, 5-9) capitalized on more of NU’s mistakes. Eighteen points-almost all of the Illini’s halftime lead-came off of turnovers.

“They’re a really long and athletic team-we don’t face many of those in the Big Ten,” Jaeschke said. “They gave us a little bit of trouble because they were able to get in passing lanes and deflect a lot of balls.”

The second half was competitive until the midway point, but Illinois maintained a large lead the whole way. The Cats couldn’t muster a prolonged run, climbing within 16 points but never closer than that. Even though Smith had just four attempts after the break, the Illini still scored at will to close out the 31-point romp.

Considering NU’s improvement on defense this year, the effort was disappointing. Illinois normally makes less than one-third of its 3s.

“I don’t think we executed on defense at all,” Reed said. “We had mental breakdowns, and we just made them look good.”

The outcome was unexpected-the Illini had lost seven of their last eight, while the Cats were playing their best basketball of the conference season. Even with the loss, NU remains only two games out of third place, with a trip to Michigan State looming Sunday.

“This is definitely one we want to forget,” Jaeschke said. “When coach walked into the locker room after the game, he just wrote up on the board, ‘Michigan State, 2:30, national television.’ He turned around and said, ‘Get ready for the game Sunday and put this one behind us.'”[email protected]