Illinois women’s basketball fall in Big Ten tournament quarterfinals

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

After an 81-55 walloping of Rutgers, their best performance of the Big Ten tournament’s first two rounds, Illinois women’s basketball was tasked with the three-seeded, No. 5 nationally ranked Maryland Terrapins in the quarterfinal round. The Terrapins ended up being too large of a test for the Illini, as Maryland sent Illinois packing, 73-58.

To close the season, Maryland had elevated its already spectacular game and won its last six games in a row. This streak included an 82-71 win over the Illini and unfortunately was an accurate sign of what was to come. The Illini put up a good fight to start out, leading by as much as five points midway through the first quarter, but Maryland eventually settled in and found their groove shortly after.

Illinois was still without sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill and sophomore guard Jayla Oden, whose injuries have kept them out of the last four matchups. Aside from the universal detriment of losing two of your top players, Shoup-Hill and Oden each bring something unique that the Illini have missed greatly in their absence, namely Shoup-Hill’s size and Oden’s energy.

Due to these injuries, Illinois’ starting lineup saw some shakeup but has remained constant ever since, with junior guards Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant holding down the backcourt alongside sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie, senior guard Jada Peebles and junior forward Kendall Bostic.

The Illini started the game on defense after losing the tipoff, but were able to hold the Terrapins to a miss. Attempting to get into the same flow from behind the arc that was kind to Illinois against Rutgers, Peebles quickly took a transition three but was unable to connect.

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Through the first media timeout, neither team had gained much positioning over the other, with Maryland sitting at an 8-7 lead. Out of the break, the Terrapins were able to drop in shot from behind the arc to create a bit more separation, but the Illini finally had their answer. Illinois strung together nine uninterrupted points to take its first lead of the game, with Cook scoring or assisting on seven points (16-11).

However, Maryland found its response just as quickly, ending the first quarter on a 9-2 run of its own to retake the lead at 20-18. This run continued after the break, with the Illini being outscored 13-2 over the next 5 minutes (33-20). A second chance three point basket fell for Cook after a timeout by head coach Shauna Green, but the Illini could not get any stops to balance out the offense. By halftime, Illinois trailed 41-25 and was held to just seven points in the second quarter.

Bryant started the second half on fire, going on a personal five-point run to create a dent in the lead and almost bringing the Illini within single digits. Maryland responded with points of its own, but Bostic pulled in a strong offensive rebound and dropped in a layup to put the Illini back within 11 (43-32).

No further ground was gained from there, however, as Maryland continued to dominate inside the arc. Heading into the final quarter, Illinois had managed to outscore the Terrapins by one point after trailing by as much as 18, but were still behind a daunting amount with a score of 60-46.

Seemingly flipping a switch, Maryland ruled the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and developed its lead to a game-high 20 points. Illinois technically closed the game on a 6-0 run and had held Maryland scoreless for nearly five minutes, but it was all for nothing as Illinois fell 73-58 in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

It is not yet certain when Illinois women’s basketball will return to the court, however, its best lineup in almost a decade all but guaranteed that it will be selected for the NCAA Tournament next Sunday at 7 p.m.

Despite the uncertainty in their future, head coach Green is extremely proud of the ground gained over this season.

“From day one, this team has just believed,” Green said. “They believed they could win probably before even I thought we could win.”



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