Creighton Next for Cirone, Redbirds
Feb. 24, 2006
Normal, Ill. - Most people would think that scoring 17 points in the first half of a 64-61 win over Drake on Thursday would be enough for Kristi Cirone. After all, she's just a freshman and she helped her Illinois State team stop Drake's six-game winning streak. The Redbirds have winning momentum to carry into a 2:05 p.m. Sunday game with Creighton.
Cirone was miffed at herself. After the win, Cirone was smiling, but still shaking her head about a rare free throw miss (she shoots just under 80 percent) with three seconds left that could have made it a two possession game.
"You just can't miss that one," said Cirone, who doesn't miss many--nearly 80 percent from the line--and was 5-for-5 before that shot. She does a number of things well, leading Illinois State in scoring (13.7 points per game) and assists (4.3 per game). As of late February, Cirone was the only `true' freshman in the nation leading her team in points and assists. Tennessee's Candace Parker and Montana's Mandy Morales are redshirt freshmen leading their teams in both of those categories.
A year ago, Cirone--a McDonald's Top 100 prep player--was leading Chicago's Resurrection High School into the state tournament.
Maybe the high expectations, followed by an even higher level of performance, have placed others' expectations nearly as high as Cirone's herself. Her coach, Robin Pingeton admits Cirone is on a different level for a first-year player and the slender 5-foot-8 guard carries it the leadership burden of being one of the team captains with grace.
"When we recruited Kristi, she understood where our program was and what our expectations were," said Pingeton. "The challenge to meet those expectations, I think, was one of the attractions to her. She wanted that awesome responsibility as a freshman."
And she receives no favors from Pingeton.
"I'm tough on her," said Pingeton. "I demand a lot out of her and challenge her and she takes it all like a champion. She has tremendous instincts and you can't teach that. I give her all the credit. She is passionate about the game, coachable and driven."
As the Redbirds, 10-14, 5-10 in the Valley, continue a drive to get the No. 6 seed and a pass through the first round of the 2006 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, Cirone's leadership and Illinois State's toughness will be tested, starting with the Bluejays on Sunday--the final home game for the Valley's No. 2 rebounder, Holly Hallstrom of Illinois State.
Creighton, 6-17, 4-10 before a Friday match-up with Indiana State, has dropped 10 in a row despite a roster with six seniors, including all-conference forward Angie Janus, the league's No. 3 scorer and No. 4 rebounder. Pingeton finds the Bluejay record incredible.
"Creighton is a talented team that has struggled. It's always tough to play a team like that," said Pingeton. "They lost (No. 2 scorer) Kristi Woodard, but she's back and you know she will get better and be capable of busting loose for a big game. Creighton will be hungry for a win; we will have to stay hungry."
In the first ISU-CU meeting, Jan. 26 in Omaha, the `Birds ended an 0-for-14 streak on the road against Creighton with a 71-68 win as Cirone's 13 points led give Redbird in double figures scoring.
Hallstrom has established herself as one of the best Redbird rebounders of all time in just two years. The No. 28 rebounder in the nation with 9.9 per game, her career average of 8.5 per game is No. 2 in Redbird history--only behind former USA Olympian Cathy Boswell. Her nine double-doubles--including five in the last seven games--are the most by a Redbird player since 1992-93 when Caryn Brune had 12 for the season.
Like Cirone, Hallstrom's success is no surprise to Pingeton.
"Our expectations for Holly have always been high," said Pingeton, who recruited the 6-foot-2 former all-stater from Moline, Ill., out of Kirkwood Community College in Iowa two years ago. "She is a player who is so gifted, you believe she can do great things. Certainly, as a rebounder, she can be one of the best."
The `Birds, who are two games out of sixth place in the league standings, have road tests Wednesday at Evansville and next Saturday (March 4) at Southern Illinois to end the regular season.