Illinois women’s basketball gets back on track with 10-point win over Michigan State

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Angel Saldivar

Players of the Illinois women’s basketball team line up after the game on Sunday against Michigan State to sing “Hail to the Orange.” After a back and forth game, the Illini came out on top with 86 points to the Spartan’s 76.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

Looking to move on from one of its worst offensive performances of the season, No. 22 Illinois women’s basketball faced off against Michigan State in the final game of their two-game home stretch. Despite trailing for moments in the first and second quarters, offensive runs in the second and fourth quarters enabled an 86–76 victory for Illinois.

Junior guard Makira Cook was the Illini’s leading scorer in their loss to Purdue, notching 19 points to go along with five rebounds and two steals. Although her shot was not falling at the blistering rate it typically does, junior guard Genesis Bryant found other ways to impact the game for Illinois as she totaled 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Illinois started the game on defense after Michigan State came down with the tip-off, but quality rotations meant no points for the Spartans. Sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie had it going early for Illinois, making her first two shots for an early 4–0 edge. Michigan State rallied back to tie the game at 6–6, before taking the lead at 9–8 with a shot from behind the arc. This lead was stretched as high as four points (14–10) and could have grown further if not for timely points from sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill that kept the Illini close heading into the second quarter (16–13).

Scoring the first six points of the quarter for the Illini, sophomore guard Jayla Oden provided Illinois with more bench scoring in two minutes than it had in its entire last game (5). With 5:49 remaining before halftime, McKenzie set up Bryant for a shot from behind that arc that reclaimed the lead for Illinois (24–22). From there, the shots Illinois had been making all season began to fall. The lead exploded to 37–25 before a four-point swing for the Spartans resulted in a halftime score of 37–29.

At halftime, Cook was leading the Illini in scoring with 10 points, having also picked up two rebounds, an assist and a steal. Illinois’ second-highest scorer, Shoup-Hill, was not far behind with seven points on 3–4 shooting. Despite not scoring since the opening minutes of the game, McKenzie had turned up her performance in other areas of the game to earn four rebounds, three assists and two steals to go along with six points.

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    The Illini started off the third quarter a bit shaky, committing three turnovers within the first 90 seconds. To make matters worse, three fouls had also been called on Illinois during that same time. Despite this, the Spartans only cut Illinois’ lead as low as six during this stretch and by the 4:48 mark the Illini lead had been pushed back to double digits (51–41). But Michigan State refused to back down, proceeding to score seven unanswered points to make it a one-possession game.

    Almost immediately after checking into the game, senior guard Jada Peebles nailed a shot to stop the bleeding, but the Spartans answered with an and-one layup. Slowly but surely, the Illini got back into groove on offense and built their lead back to a point where it was a 61–52 game going into the fourth quarter.

    Bryant and McKenzie opened up the fourth quarter with a combined five points that pushed Illinois’ lead to the highest it had been all game (14). Michigan State was able to string together several small runs that put them within single digits, but several clutch buckets from Cook ended up being enough for Illinois to come out on top (86–76).

    Cook’s 26 points led the way for the Illini, marking her tenth time scoring 20 or more points this season. While it was not her most efficient night from the field (8–21), Cook made the shots that mattered the most and did not miss a single free throw (10–10). Bryant also breached the 20-point mark (21) on just nine shot attempts, going 3–6 from behind the arc and making all eight of her free throws.

    Stuffing the stat sheet in just about every category was McKenzie, who finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. For the first time this season, the Big Ten’s leading rebounder, junior forward Kendall Bostic, missed out on a double-double due to rebounds as she finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.

    For the fifth time this season, Illinois bounced back from a loss to prevent the start of a losing streak, a feat that head coach Shauna Green largely attributes to her team’s mindset.

    “Unfortunately I think that when you have to lose, it gets (the team’s) attention,” said Green. “They’re very, very aware. We preach about the bounce back, the response. What action are you going to take and get back to what we do. What we do works because when we’ve had success when we do it. That’s the message we’re giving them, and give our team credit that they’re listening and they’re able to put it into action.”

    Illinois women’s basketball will be on the road this Thursday for their first and only game of the season against Michigan.

     

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