Illinois women’s basketball closes regular season on high note with dominant win at Rutgers


James Hoeck

Guard Jada Peebles and Forward/Center Geovana Lopes during their senior night after their last home game on Wednesday. The Illini ended of their last game on Sunday against Rutgers.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

After having senior night spoiled by its worst loss of the season, Illinois women’s basketball had one more chance to end its regular season with a bang with a trip to Rutgers. The two programs met earlier this season in an 80-62 whomping by the Illini and this time around was much of the same story. Illinois jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, finishing with a final score of 75-53.

Still in the absence of starting sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill and sophomore guard Jayla Oden, the Illini rolled out the same starting five as last game. Junior guards Genesis Bryant and Makira Cook held down the backcourt alongside senior guard Jada Peebles, sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie and junior forward Kendall Bostic.

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Rutgers came down with the tipoff but came up empty on each of its first two possessions. On the other hand, Illinois got its offense going early with Cook finding Peebles for a shot behind the arc. A layup and pair of free throws gave the Scarlet Knights a brief lead, but Peebles knocked down another three to retake it. After allowing another Rutgers layup, Illinois locked in and allowed just two more Scarlet Knight points in the final seven minutes. During that time, the Illini knocked in 15 points of their own to take a commanding 21-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Despite a slower offensive start to the second quarter, Illinois eventually got to add to its lead without consequence. With five minutes remaining, each squad had totaled just six points before the Illini ripped off six points in under two minutes to claim a daunting 33-14 edge. Rutgers managed to string together some points from there, cutting the deficit as low as 16 entering halftime (37-21).

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    Through 20 minutes, Peebles led both teams in scoring with 13 points thanks to an impressive three shots from behind the arc on just five attempts. Not far behind was McKenzie, who had 10 points of her own while leading the team in rebounding (5) and assists (4).

    With such a significant lead entering the third quarter, it was the Illini’s game to win and they showed no signs of slowing down. Peebles was the first to strike for either team, knocking down her fourth three of the game and giving Illinois a 19-point lead that set the tone for what was to come. By the end of the third frame, Rutgers had failed to make any progress, with the Illini lead now sitting at 21 points (57-36).

    Eerily similar to the first three quarters, Illinois was not allowing the Scarlet Knights to get away with anything. Continuing to build on their lead, the Illini earned a final score of 75-53 to end their best regular season in years with a win. Now sitting at 21-8 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten, Illinois will be a pencil-in for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade.

    In her final regular-season game as an Illini, Peebles led the team in scoring with 20 points, knocking in four of six shots from behind the three-point line. Also showing out was McKenzie, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists. McKenzie led the team in rebounding and shared the title of leading playmaker with Bryant. Despite having a quiet game on the glass, Bostic had a monster game on the defensive end, finishing with three blocks and two steals.

    Finishing the season 11-7 in Big Ten play, Illinois will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 6 seed, the highest seed it has earned since 2012-13. Facing the winner of Rutgers and Northwestern, the Illini will be back in action this Thursday in Minneapolis.



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