Illinois women’s basketball knocks off No. 12 Iowa in 90-86 thriller

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Sidney Malone

Guard Genesis Bryant shoots a free throw during a game against Alcorn on Nov. 13. The Illini started the new year on a positive note by defeating Iowa in a close game of 90-86 on Sunday.

By Conor Blount, Staff Writer

Following a 16-point victory at Wisconsin, Illinois headed home for a New Year’s Day matchup against No. 12 Iowa in its fourth Big Ten game of the season (2-1). Big contributions from the entirety of Illinois resulted in its first ranked win of the year and first ranked win since 2019, claiming a 90-86 victory over the Hawkeyes.

Despite some shaky moments in their last game, the Illini still pulled out their 11th double-digit win of the season by the time the final whistle blew in Madison. It was junior guard Makira Cook’s first game back from illness and she earned an impressive 23 points, four rebounds and five steals. Sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie set a career-high in scoring with 26 points while also grabbing eight rebounds.

After losing the tip, Illinois quickly got possession due to Iowa losing the ball out of bounds. The Illini came up empty on their first few shots at offense, but it was ultimately McKenzie who got things going with a tough layup to tie the game at 2-2.

With 4:19 remaining in the first quarter, Illinois took its first lead of the game after a midrange jumper from Cook brought the score to 8-7. Cook scored the next five for the Illini as well, which resulted in a 13-10 lead. However, the Hawkeyes closed the period on an 8-0 run putting Illinois on the losing end.

Going into the second quarter, Illinois trailed 18-13 with Cook’s seven points leading the way in scoring. The Illini had seven fouls called against them compared to zero against Iowa in the period.

Senior guard Jada Peebles got the second quarter started for the Illini, drilling a midrange jump shot that cut the Hawkeye lead to three. With 7:35 remaining, an offensive rebound by junior forward Kendall Bostic resulted in a layup for McKenzie that saw the first Iowa foul called (22-19). After holding Iowa to no points on the defensive end, excellent ball movement from the Illini resulted in a corner three for Peebles, tying the game at 22-22.

Having a slight 32-31 edge, the Illini were playing stifling defense on Iowa. Over the final minutes of the quarter, Illinois exploded for a 12-2 run that was capped off by a buzzer-beating three to end the half from junior guard Genesis Bryant.

At halftime, Illinois held a 44-33 lead behind an efficient 16 points from Cook. Not far behind was McKenzie with ten points on top of three assists, two rebounds and two steals. As usual, Bostic was impacting the game in ways other than scoring as she reeled in eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Graduate forward Geovana Lopes also played a critical role in shutting down Iowa on the defensive end while Illinois was on its 12-2 run.

Illinois started the second half where it left off, getting a stop on the defensive end before Cook found Bostic for an easy layup on offense. Iowa put together a run of its own throughout the period, cutting the Illinois lead to 53-49 with 4:50 remaining.

With the help of eight points on perfect shooting from Bostic along with five points and three assists from Bryant, Iowa only shaved two points off of Illinois’ halftime lead by the end of the third quarter (67-58).

The Hawkeyes opened the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run that forced head coach Shauna Green to take a timeout with 8:34 remaining. Coming out of the timeout, an offensive rebound by Bostic resulted in a layup for Bryant that brought the score to 71-65.

Following a clutch bucket by Bryant to extend Illinois’ lead to five in the final minutes of the game, McKenzie immediately picked up a steal and basket which brought the score to 84-77. After an Iowa three, quickly Bryant responded with a three of her own at the other end (87-80).

Four consecutive free throws for the Hawkeyes made it a one possession game with 1:20 remaining. After reviewing an out of bounds call, the ball went back to Iowa with under a minute left in the game, but an air ball by junior guard Caitlin Clark gave the ball right back to Illinois.

The Illini came up empty on offense, but a costly offensive foul by Clark put her over the foul limit and gave the ball back to Illinois. The Hawkeyes failed to win the free throw game, resulting in a 90-86 victory for the Illini. The win was Illinois’ first against a ranked team in almost four years (1/6/2019) and is sure to earn the Illini their fair share of votes in the AP poll tomorrow.

Illinois saw twenty point games from both Bryant (24) and Cook (20) with Bostic also picking up 17 points on perfect shooting from the field (7-7). Bryant led the team in scoring on tremendous efficiency as well, missing just two shots in the entire game while having perfect shooting from behind the arc and at the free throw line. On top of the offensive efficiency, Bostic earned her fourth double-double of the year with 12 rebounds. McKenzie had a tremendous night on both ends of the court, picking up 16 points while grabbing three steals.

“I remember the possession they had going into halftime and the crowd was so loud,” Bryant said. “I feel like I’m really just having fun out there and enjoying being out there. I’ve got great teammates, great staff, great environment.” 

Illinois women’s basketball will be back in action this Thursday against Northwestern looking to claim back to back Big Ten wins.

 

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