No. 22 Illinois women’s basketball comes up short against Purdue

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

After fending off a late push by Northwestern in its last time out, No. 22 Illinois women’s basketball returned home with the hopes of kicking off another win streak against Purdue. However, the Boilermakers had other plans as they held Illinois to one of its worst offensive games of the season, resulting in a 62-52 loss for the Illini.

In their last time out, junior guard Genesis Bryant led the Illini in scoring with an efficient 18 points while also picking up three assists and a steal. As has become custom at this point, Bostic was a force on both ends of the floor. 16 points and 13 rebounds notched Bostic her fifth double-double in the last six games but arguably the most impressive part was her three steals and three blocks.

Illinois came down with the tip but was unable to find the bottom of the basket until its second possession when a Bostic screen freed Bryant up for an open shot from the midrange. The Illini continued to struggle on the offensive end, making just two of their first eight shot attempts and falling behind 10-5 with 5:35 remaining in the first quarter. Back-to-back steals late in the first quarter kept Purdue at bay, but the Illini managed to get just two points out of those mistakes. While attempting to come down with a rebound, Bostic accidentally tipped in a buzzer-beating layup for the Boilermakers, pushing their edge to 16-11 going into the second quarter.

Despite shooting 4-17 from the field in the first quarter, the Illini only found themselves in a five-point deficit due to forcing a fair amount of Purdue turnovers. The second quarter was initially much of the same, with Illinois forcing turnovers on the defensive end but failing to produce any points. But as soon as the Boilermakers stopped turning the ball over things began to look grim for Illinois, with the deficit stretching to 25-13 by the 5:48 mark.

A pair of free throws by senior guard Jada Peebles, a steal on the defensive end and a transition layup by sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie injected some much-needed energy into the Illini. This sequence cut the lead to single digits (29-21) and Illinois seemed primed to further cut into the lead in the final minutes before halftime.

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Unfortunately for Illinois, it was not meant to be as the Boilermakers battled back to earn a comfortable 35-25 halftime lead. Junior guard Makira Cook led the way in scoring with 11 points to go along with two rebounds and a steal. Bostic had a game-high five rebounds in the half, while also having a sizable defensive impact with one block and a steal. As a unit, Illinois totaled an impressive six steals and eight total forced turnovers, but only had eight points off turnovers to show for it.

Jump ball possession changes resulted in Illinois being the first with the ball coming out of halftime and despite coming up empty on the offensive end, their first defensive possession once again ended in a turnover for Purdue. Sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill was the first to strike for either squad as she came down with an offensive rebound and put it back up for a successful and-one. Building on that momentum, Cook drained a baseline jumper to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to just five points (35-30).

Purdue responded with a long two-point jumper and a layup, but Shoup-Hill found her way back to the basket for another tough layup (39-32). However, the Boilermakers responded with a 6-2 run that pushed Illinois out of striking range for the time being (45-34).

Despite a hot start to the second half, the Illini still saw themselves trailing 49-37 going into the final quarter of play.

Illinois held the Boilermakers to an impressive four points through the first four minutes of the quarter but had put up just three points of their own. Out of a timeout, the Illini drew up a play that ended with an open three-point make for Shoup-Hill which cut the deficit to eight points with 4:29 remaining (53-45). Unfortunately for the Illini, this three-pointer was an outlier rather than the norm, and continued misses ultimately prevented Illinois from pulling off the comeback.

With a final score of 62-52, Illinois’ record dropped to 16-5 on the season including 6-4 in Big Ten play. The loss was highlighted by a very poor shooting night for the Illini, who made just four of their 26 shot attempts from behind the arc. No individual Illini made more than a single three-pointer.

Head coach Shauna Green was just as confused as anyone by her team’s night from the field, stating it was not just that the typical shots weren’t falling but also that the Illini were jacking up threes due to an inability to create anything else.

“I feel like we jacked threes — that’s not us. We are a really good three point shooting team,” Green said. “But we don’t take that many threes … Our threes (tonight) were because we didn’t run offense right, or we literally ‘its the shot clock’ and just jacked it up. That’s not us, that has not been us one game (this season).”

Despite just about everything that could have gone wrong going wrong, Illinois were still in the game right until the end. While being able to acknowledge that the game was not quite as bad as it may have felt, Green was still hard pressed to find things she liked about Illinois’ performance.

”Not our best night. Offensively we really struggled. It was just an overall not great night for us,” Green said. “(Purdue) got us out of rhythm offensively early with switching up man and zone, which a lot of people have done but we just could never get any momentum going at all. We still cut it to five but couldn’t make plays when we had to.”

Cook led the way in scoring for Illinois with 19 points, also making a solid impact on the defensive end with two steals. In terms of balanced numbers, Bryant stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Bostic reeled in a game-high 10 rebounds but was limited to just five points on four shot attempts. The one definite positive for the Illini was four players having at least two steals for 11 total steals, the Illini had no shortage of chances at points off turnovers and simply could not capitalize.

No. 22 Illinois women’s basketball will be back in action this Sunday on the Big Ten Network for a 5 p.m. home matchup against Michigan State.


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