Illinois women’s basketball earns first 20-win season for first time in 15 years

Forward+Kendall+Bostic+enjoying+herself+during+a+game+against+Michigan+State+on+Jan.+29.+%0ABostic+tied+for+a+season+high+in+rebounds+during+a+game+against+Penn+State+on+Sunday.+

Angel Saldivar

Forward Kendall Bostic enjoying herself during a game against Michigan State on Jan. 29. Bostic tied for a season high in rebounds during a game against Penn State on Sunday.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

Two weeks ago was quietly one of the most difficult of Illinois women’s basketball’s entire season, being asked to go on the road twice in four days for games at Nebraska and No. 8 Maryland. After splitting the games with a 72-64 win over Nebraska and a 82-71 loss from Maryland, Illinois’ resilience was rewarded with an entire week off before returning home for the Play4Kay Pink Game against Penn State. The time off appeared to have done wonders, as the fresh legged Illini led for almost all 40 minutes enroute to an 85-62 victory.

Junior guard Genesis Bryant was in uniform but not back in the starting lineup after going down against Nebraska and being sorely missed in the Maryland game. In Bryant’s absence, Illinois’ starting backcourt was composed of sophomore guard Jayla Oden and junior guard Makira Cook, who had a team-high 29 points in her last time out. Rounding out the starting five was sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie, sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill and junior forward Kendall Bostic.

Penn State came down with the tipoff, but settled for a heavily contested three after a solid closeout from Oden. Coming down the court in style, Cook dropped off a beautiful pass that left Oden a wide open layup for first two points of game. One defensive stop later, Cook found Oden once again for a shot behind the arc to give Illinois a 5-0 lead. Making the most of her opportunity as a starter, Oden’s active hands forced a jump ball turnover before taking a charge just a couple of possessions later.

Bryant checked in for the final minutes of the first quarter and knocked in a signature corner three as if she had never left (22-12).

With the final seconds of the first quarter dwindling down, Illinois allowed a Penn State three pointer that cut its lead to five but Cook responded by taking it the length of the court and drilling a buzzer-beating three of her own (27-19).

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The second quarter was much of the same story, with Illinois continuing to grow its lead at an alarming rate. Every shot was dropping for the Illini, with a Bostic fadeaway that took upwards of two cycles around rim before dropping representing this the best. A pretty backwards finish in transition from Bryant puts Illinois up 20 (42-22) with 4:49 remaining, but a slight three point swing for the Nittany Lions resulted in just a 17-point halftime edge (48-31).

Entering the break, Illinois already had three double digit scorers in Bostic (14), Bryant (11), and Cook (10). On top of being the game’s leading scorer, Bostic also reeled in five offensive and six defensive rebounds for a first half double-double. After giving up nine turnovers in her last time out, Cook was having a much easier time moving the ball against Penn State, having zero turnovers and six assists at halftime.

Despite the massive lead, Illinois came out of the gates firing with all around solid play resulting in continued growth for the Illini lead. Bostic picked up right where she left off, securing rebounds and second chance points with ease while Cook dropped in a couple of tough layups. By the 4:17 mark, Illinois lead by 30 points (63-33) and Bostic had tied a season-high 16 rebounds.

Entering the fourth, Illinois’ lead had grown ever so slightly for a score of 73-40 and despite being at the point of the game where starters begin to get pulled, Penn State failed to gain any ground. Freshman guard Kam’Ren Rhodes knocked down a three point shot off of a find from Bryant, before the ball was circulated back to Bryant for another three on Illinois’ next possession.

Bostic briefly checked back in due to some foul trouble for McKenzie and immediately picked up two more rebounds to earn a season high 18 rebounds.

With just a few minutes remaining in the game, Illinois coasted to a final score of 85-62 which moved its overall record to 20-7 and its Big Ten record to 10-6. This marked Illinois’ first 20 win season since 2007-08, while also being its first season with 10 Big Ten win since 1999-00.

Bostic’s impact in the win cannot be overstated, finishing with a 22-point and 18-rebound double-double, Bostic led the team in each category while also picking up a steal on the defensive end. In her return from injury, Bryant also looked excellent. Finishing just shy of Bostic’s scoring total (21), Bryant shot a blistering 5-8 from deep while playing just 23 minutes, significantly less than her average as a starter.

Illinois women’s basketball will be back in action this Wednesday hosting Nebraska for its last home game of the season.

 

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