Historic Illinois women’s basketball season closes with 70-56 loss to Mississippi State

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

In its first tournament appearance since 2002-03, Illinois women’s basketball was tasked with a First Four matchup against Mississippi State to earn a place in the round of 64. Despite having one of its best defensive quarters of the entire season, an inability to put together significant scoring runs ended up being Illinois’ downfall. A final score of 70-56 was the closing chapter of the Illini’s most successful season in years. 

After missing four games due to injury, sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill was back in the starting lineup providing some much-needed size. Alongside Shoup-Hill was Illinois’ junior guard duo of Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant, sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie and junior forward Kendall Bostic. 

Mississippi State came down with the tipoff, but the ball was quickly in Illinois’ hands after a steal by Bostic. Unfortunately, the Illini were unable to capitalize on the momentum and turned the ball over themselves. Cook was the first scorer for Illinois, dropping in a layup to neutralize four straight points from the Bulldogs. 

Illinois kept the game close during the first quarter, never letting Mississippi State’s lead grow too large and even leading in the closing minutes thanks to jumpers from Cook and McKenzie (19-16). But the Bulldogs closed the quarter on a 5-0 run, headlined by a buzzer-beating three point make, to reclaim the lead heading into the second quarter (21-19). 

Coming out of the break, Bryant dropped in a layup to knot the game at 21. What followed was a defensive battle, with both teams having extreme difficulty putting the ball in the basket. The game went scoreless for two minutes until Cook maneuvered her way into a jumper that put Illinois up 23-21. By halftime, Illinois found themselves with only 11 points in the quarter while the Bulldogs had just 10 (31-30). 

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    Unfortunately for Illinois, the third quarter saw Mississippi State step up its offensive output while keeping an equal level of intensity on defense. Generating a layup just eight seconds into the quarter was a sign of what was to come, as the Bulldogs had whatever they asked for within the paint. This was the start of a soul crushing 11-2 run for Mississippi State, and even after Illinois cracked the elusive bottom of the basket, the lead continued to grow. 

    While Illinois was able to get away with scoring just 11 points in the second quarter, scoring eight points in the third quarter was met with great consequences as they now trailed 52-38. 

    Significant work was left to be done in the final quarter of play and with each passing minute the task became steeper. The Bulldogs refused to take their foot off of the gas pedal and continued to pour in baskets from within the arc. Each time Illinois appeared to gain momentum, it was met with an equal or greater response from Mississippi State. Ultimately, Illinois was outscored by one in the final 10 minutes for a final score of 70-56. 

    Illinois’ final record for the 2022-23 season sits at 22-10, with an 11-7 mark in conference play and its first NCAA tournament appearance in two decades. Not just a historic turnaround by Illinois’ standards, but a terrific season that is not to be taken for granted. Head coach Shauna Green and Illinois women’s basketball will take the floor next fall looking to improve upon their already tremendous strides.

     

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