Selection Sunday brings mixed emotions for Illinois women’s basketball

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

A historic turnaround, improving from 7-20 to 22-9, has earned Illinois women’s basketball its first spot in the NCAA Tournament in 20 years (2002-03). Despite the incredible season, including a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten (all five squads ahead of the Illini finished the season in the AP Top 25 rankings) and an upset victory over the now No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes, the committee deemed that Illinois was one of the First Four in and will have to play one more game to earn a place as an 11 seed in the round of 64.

Sitting opposite from Illinois in the fight for the 11 seed in the Greensville 1 region is Mississippi State, who finished 20-10 with a 9-7 mark in conference play. This record was also good for sixth best in the Bulldog’s conference, but unlike Illinois they failed to make it past their first game of the conference tournament with a 79-72 loss to Texas A&M (9-20).

While the seeding that was given to the Illini may seem disappointing, head coach Shauna Green believes that when taking a step back to consider how long it has been since Illinois has gone dancing, what her squad has accomplished is impressive regardless of seeding.

It’s a great day because Illinois women’s basketball is in the NCAA Tournament, that is amazing,” Green said. When I took this job, this was the goal – to make NCAA tournaments and compete for championships. For us to be in it, and now for some of us to be upset about a seed … it’s perspective, because we are in the NCAA tournament. We get to play in the best tournament that there is in college basketball, and we’re super excited.”

Additionally, Illinois has the fortune of having a head coach with experience in this 11 seed play-in game, with Green’s 2021-22 Dayton squad battling their way into the tournament’s round of 64 from the exact same situation just over a year ago.

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Personally, I just said I wanted to be in the tournament, but I thought we did enough work to not have to be in the play-in game,” Green said. But I also know we were in the play-in game last year and I felt the same way. We used it as motivation, we played really well and beat DePaul. We’ll use it as motivation, we’ll use it and I’ll flip it. We’ll have a really fun internal message that we’ll go out there and prove people wrong.”

With the play-in game being hosted on Wednesday and in the same location as the winner’s eventual region in the tournament, Green believes there are a lot of positives that can be taken from having to play an extra game.

I experienced this last year. The First Four in the women’s side doesn’t even feel as much as the First Four on the men’s side, where they’ll have it at Dayton and then you gotta go to the next site,” Green explained. You’re at the site and it’s a great feel, it’s a great atmosphere and it feels like you’re in the NCAA tournament. One thing I do like, I thought it was good for us last year, there’s not many games going on (on Wednesday), and everyone watches. For us last year, we played really, really well. Now, granted, I left, but it really helped us recruiting-wise because the eyes were on us.”

Illinois women’s basketball will see its first NCAA tournament action in two decades this Wednesday at 6 p.m. on ESPNU, looking to battle its way into a spot in the round of 64.



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