Illinois women’s basketball earns season sweep of Minnesota

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Junior guard Makira Cook looks for a teammate to pass to against Michigan State on Jan. 29. Cook combined with junior guard Genesis Bryant to score 38 points on Sunday against Minnesota, leading to an Illini victory.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

Following their lone matchup of the season against Michigan, Illinois women’s basketball returned home for its second matchup of the year against Minnesota. Their first meeting was almost entirely in favor of the Illini who exited with a 70-57 victory thanks to junior guards Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant who combined for 38 points.

Illinois’ last outing did not go as planned, as its trip to Ann Arbor ended with a score of 74-57 in favor of the Wolverines. Bryant and junior forward Kendall Bostic shared the title of leading scorer with 18 points each while sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie’s had a team-high seven rebounds.

Prior to the game, the jersey of Jenna Smith, Illinois women’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer, was raised into the rafters of State Farm Center. Playing from 2007-10, Smith totaled 2,160 points and 1,217 rebounds while leading the Illini on two trips to the WNIT. Smith was drafted 14th overall in the second round of the 2010 WNBA draft by the Washington Mystics and continues to play professionally in Southern France to this day.

The Gophers came down with the tipoff, but good defense from Bostic held them scoreless. On Illinois’ first trip to the offensive end, Cook found Shoup-Hill for an easy layup to kick off the game’s scoring. Despite Minnesota scoring just four points during the first four minutes of play and McKenzie hitting two pretty shots from the midrange, the Illini held just a 10-6 lead going into the first media break.

This lead small lead evaporated over the following minutes due to hot three-point shooting from the Gophers and the Illini soon found themselves all tied up (14-14) with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter. However, a three-point make from Bryant and a last-second layup by McKenzie gave Illinois a bit of breathing room heading into the second quarter.

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    Hot shooting from behind the arc continued to be a trend for Minnesota, as they hit one to cut Illinois’ lead to 24-23 with 6:30 remaining before hitting another to tie the game at 26-26. Illinois responded with back-to-back threes of its own, but a 5-0 run by the Gophers all but nullified this. At the 2:21 mark, Cook found McKenzie for a tough layup through contact that McKenzie dropped for an and-one (35-31).

    A 4-0 run by Minnesota to close the first half resulted in neither side having an advantage going into the break. McKenzie led the Illini in scoring with 11 points, doing so on the same amount of shot attempts, while also being the second leading rebounder (6). Cook and Bryant did an excellent job facilitating the ball in the first half, having a team high seven assists to zero turnovers.

    The second half kicked off with a 6-0 run for the Illini as they scored on three of their first four possessions. A pair of free throws for Minnesota foretold the tale of what was to come, as they would ultimately score more points at the free throw line than from the field during the third quarter. Illinois responded with four unanswered points to take a comfortable eight-point lead that would more or less hold for the remainder of the period.

    Going into the final quarter of play with a 53-45 lead, it would’ve taken a miracle for Minnesota to come back especially after a layup by McKenzie pushed Illinois’ lead to 10 points in the first minute of the period. However, an offensive dry spell struck the Illini, as Minnesota scored nine unanswered points to enter the final four minutes of the game only trailing 55-54.

    A tough layup by McKenzie held the Gophers at bay momentarily, but they quickly responded with two points of their own. McKenzie responded with a layup through contact, this time getting a foul call and converting the and-one (60-56). But Minnesota refused to back down, stringing together four uninterrupted points to tie the game with just under two minutes remaining.

    Despite a rough shooting performance on the night, Cook came up clutch when it mattered the most with four straight points of her own to give Illinois a 64-60 lead in the final minute of the game. Having to resort to intentional fouls, Minnesota ended up giving up five more points off of free throws for a final score of 69-62.

    Cook ended up leading the Illini in scoring with 21 points, hitting all eight of her free throws while dishing out five assists. Falling just behind Cook in the point total was McKenzie who had an outstanding game. Finishing with 20 points on 9-16 shooting, McKenzie was also just one rebound shy of a double-double (9). Just barely beating McKenzie out in the rebounding department was Bostic, whose 10 rebounds and 10 points earned her ninth double-double of the year.

    The win tonight marked the sixth time this season that Illinois has responded from a loss in its last time out with a win, not having lost consecutive games all season. Head coach Shauna Green has preached all season that her group is always looking to go 1-0, never being concerned with the past or future and putting 100% of their energy into what lies immediately ahead of them. Further cementing the buy-in from Illinois on Green’s ideology, McKenzie attributed this mindset to the reason why Illinois is yet to lose back-to-back games this season.

    “We have that bounce-back mentality every game,” McKenzie said. “We didn’t like the Michigan outcome but we knew we would have another opportunity to go out and bounce back so that’s what we did today.”

    Illinois women’s basketball will be back in action this Thursday with a trip to Lincoln for its first of two February matchups against Nebraska.

     

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