By JEFF HUTH
CHAMPAIGN — When Matt Bollant took over the Illinois women’s basketball program late last March, the former Wisconsin-Green Bay coach already knew he was inheriting a player with a special talent for defense.
Months earlier, from his spot on the opposite bench, Bollant saw for himself how disruptive Adrienne GodBold can be to an ordinarily smooth-running attack.
“We used to run a play all the time, and she kind of shut down the one play,” Bollant said, recalling a November 2011 game between UWGB and the Illini. “It was the only time all year that play wasn’t effective, because she just wasn’t going to let the ball be dribbled where we wanted it to go.
“So we saw that in her right away — that she can change a game, change a play, just by her defense.”
Bollant’s Big Ten peers apparently saw the same thing in the Illini senior guard this season. On Monday, the conference announced that GodBold was its Defensive Player of the Year. The award goes to the top vote-getter for the All-Defensive Team, which is decided by league coaches.
“I love to play defense, so getting that award means a lot to me,” GodBold said. “It’s been instilled in me since (playing for Chicago) Marshall High School. That was Coach (Dorothy) Gaters, one of her main philosophies in basketball.”
Teammate Karisma Penn also received a major postseason honor, with the media selecting the 6-foot-2 senior center to its All-Big Ten first team. The all-conference first-team award was the first of Penn’s career and marked the third year in a row she earned a spot on one of the three All-Big Ten teams.
In addition, Penn and GodBold were named All-Big Ten second team by the coaches, and GodBold was a third-team pick by the media.
GodBold received her second Big Ten individual honor in as many years. As a junior, the 5-foot-11 Illini was selected Sixth Player of the Year.
“It’s the Big Ten, and it’s not easy at all, so to be up there with these top players, it feels great,” she said.
GodBold tied for second in the conference in steals in Big Ten games with 3.4 per contest. Her 190 career steals rank ninth in UI program history.
“There’s a lot of (opponent) possessions this year, the possession would be OK until her person got the ball,” Bollant said, “and all the sudden we became almost the aggressor — getting the ball stopped and getting pressure and getting some tips.”
Bollant expressed disappointment that Penn was not recognized to a greater degree by the league’s coaches in the postseason awards.
Penn ranks among the Big Ten’s top five in five major statistical categories: scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots and field goal percentage.
Penn was not among the five players on the All-Defensive Team nor among the five selections to the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team.
“I appreciate the media for voting her first team,” Bollant said. “I don’t know how, with the stats that she has, that she’s not on the first team for both the media and the coaches.
“And you certainly could make a very strong argument for (her being) Player of the Year.”
The Illini coach later said he agreed that the POY should go to someone from one of the league’s top teams. That was the case this season, with guard Maggie Lucas of Big Ten champion Penn State being voted the league’s top player by the coaches and media.
“But at the same time, (Penn) should be second, third, fourth in the voting, and for her to slip to sixth to me is not OK,” Bollant said. “I’m disappointed for her.
“She also should be on the All-Defensive Team, if not her and Adrienne share (Defensive Player of the Year). She is as good as anybody in the league defensively.”
In the lead-up to the Big Ten postseason awards announcement, Bollant also had been mentioned as a candidate for Coach of the Year. Illinois (16-12) finished tied for fifth in the Big Ten at 9-7 — the program’s first winning conference record since the 2002-03 season.
The coaching award was split between Nebraska’s Connie Yori (coaches) and Penn State’s Coquese Washington (media).
Although coaches are permitted to vote for themselves in this award, Bollant indicated he did not.
“I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But I feel I have a great staff. I think we’ve done a great job. It’s the (Illini’s) best conference record in 10 years. That’s saying something, so I’m proud of our staff.”