Illinois women’s basketball claims second Big Ten victory of the year at Wisconsin

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Madison Dabrowski/Illini AthleticsAth

Guard Adalia McKenzie jumps to the hoop during game against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 1. Mckenzie earned a career high of 26 points during Big Ten match against Wisconsin on Thursday.

By Conor Blount, Staff Writer

Coming off of a 35-point victory against Florida Atlantic where junior guard Genesis Bryant earned the third triple-double in program history, Illinois women’s basketball went on the road to face Wisconsin. Illinois’ leading scorer in junior guard Makira Cook made an immediate impact in her return to the court after missing two games due to illness as Illinois claimed a 16-point victory over the Badgers (79-63).

The Illini looked dominant in their last outing, seeing four double-digit scorers in Bryant (22), sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill (14), sophomore guard Jayla Oden (14) and senior guard Jada Peebles (11). On top of leading the team in scoring, Bryant picked up career highs in both rebounding (10) and assists (12). Bryant’s efforts earned her a spot in the record books, as it was just the third triple-double in Illinois history.

Bryant’s phenomenal play since becoming a starter was rewarded by keeping her starting role upon Cook’s return. Shoup-Hill, sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie and junior forward Kendall Bostic started alongside Bryant and Cook.

After losing the tip, Illinois gave up a layup on the defensive end to open the game. However, Illinois quickly took a 6-4 lead off of back-to-back three point makes from Bryant. From that point onward, the Illini could not make much headway over the Badgers with their largest lead in the quarter being five.

This back-and-forth worked in favor of Wisconsin, who was able to cut Illinois’ lead to just one point in the final minutes of the first quarter. A layup by Bostic with 0:34 remaining in the quarter gave the Illini a bit of breathing room going into the break (21-18).

Illinois started the second quarter off well, opening on a 9-2 run to take a commanding ten-point lead with 7:04 remaining. However, the Illini went on a scoring drought of their own over the next three minutes of play that enabled a 9-0 run for the Badgers.

With the score at 30-29, Wisconsin was in position to take its first lead since the opening moments of the game but Bostic ended Illinois’ scoring drought with a layup before the Badgers could capitalize. As if a curse had been broken, the Illini scored on their very next play as Bryant landed a shot from midrange and a couple of possessions later McKenzie earned two free throws.

The burst of offense to close the half resulted in a score of 38-32 going into the break. McKenzie led Illinois in scoring with 10 points while Cook and Bryant had nine and eight points respectively. The Illini had active hands during the first half, as Cook grabbed four steals while Bostic picked up two of her own.

Once again, Illinois opened the quarter firing with an 11-3 run that stretched its lead to 14 points with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter. A couple of minutes later, Bryant found Oden for her first points of the night which pushed Illinois’ lead to a game high 15 points (58-43). A slight swing in favor of the Badgers brought the score to 60-48 through three quarters.

With the only duty at hand being to protect a 12-point lead, Illinois did not have as explosive of an opening to the final quarter as the previous two.

The Illini struggled with hitting shots, as they made just four of their 11 shot attempts in the fourth quarter. What kept them afloat, however, was their impeccable free throw shooting (10-11). By the end of the game, Illinois had grown its lead by four points for a final score of 79-63.

This win marked Illinois’ second Big Ten win through three contests, giving the Illini an early spot among the upper echelon of the Big Ten standings (fifth).

McKenzie led Illinois in scoring with a career high 26 points, making 14 of her staggering 15 free throw attempts. Cook put up an impressive 23 points, four rebounds, two assists and five steals in her first game in over two weeks. Bryant posted an efficient 14 points while picking up three rebounds, four assists and a block.

Illinois women’s basketball will be back in action on New Year’s Day as they host No. 12 Iowa.

 

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