The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois women’s basketball faces neutral court matchup with No. 16 Notre Dame

The Illini (2-1) absolutely showed out in their last game as they thrashed Saint Peter’s Peacocks to the tune of a 70-point victory. Saturday’s game will not greet Illinois as kindly as it prepares to face its toughest foe yet, the No. 16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-1), in the Washington D.C.-based Citi Shamrock Classic.

Illinois has looked dominant against its non-Power Six conference opponents so far this season, but it folded under the pressure in its only real test last week against Marquette. Notre Dame is a perennial Final Four contender and not a team Illinois can afford to make silly mistakes against if they want to compete on the national stage.

“This is a great opportunity,” said head coach Shauna Green. “I wanted to play them anyway, so now we’re gonna play them on a neutral court. With all the other stuff involved in (the Citi Shamrock Classic), it’s a very unique opportunity … I can’t wait and I think our players are super excited about this opportunity.”

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Illini are averaging 83.7 points per game and shooting 44.4% from three, which is good for ninth in the entire nation. Despite this hot start, Illinois has yet to see much from last year’s third-leading scorer, junior guard Adalia McKenzie. The junior flashed a lot of potential last year, despite her lower efficiency and inability to effectively shoot from beyond the arc, averaging 13.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and 2.2 assists per game.

With the absence of Makira Cook thus far, the Illini have really needed McKenzie to step up to the plate as the true second-option offense. McKenzie is averaging a mere 5.7 points on a disappointing 37.9 TS%. In times where senior guard Genesis Bryant is looked to carry the offensive load, look for McKenzie to be that x-factor who can help get Illinois over the top against a team like Notre Dame.

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    Aside from that, Illinois will have to bring everything that it’s got for Niele Ivey’s Notre Dame squad. The Irish have a lot more height than the Illini have previously faced, so expect junior forward Brynn Shoup-Hill and senior forward Kendall Bostic’s defensive presence to play a huge role in this one.

    If Green can get the Marquette game version of fifth-year center Camille Hobby and the Saint Peter’s game version of sophomore forward Shay Bollin, or some combination of the two, there’s no reason why Illinois can’t hang in the trenches despite maybe losing a few inches here and there. There’s also good reason to expect Green to try to integrate freshman guard Cori Allen into the full-time rotation if her other freshman guard Gretchen Dolan isn’t good to go.

    For fourth-year head coach Ivey — successor to the legendary Muffet McGraw and mother of Detroit Pistons’ guard Jaden Ivey — this game presents an opportunity for the Fighting Irish to put themselves back in the spotlight after being embarrassed by South Carolina on opening night. The Irish are led by a lights-out, 20-point-per-game scorer in junior guard Sonia Citron and a pair of physical senior forwards down low in Maddy Westbeld and Kylee Watson.

    Make no mistake about Citron’s guard listing, though. Citron possesses a guard-like handle and jump shot, but is listed at 6 feet, 1 inch. The All-ACC guard will pose a matchup nightmare for Illini defenders as she plays like Cook at the same height as Bostic. Expect Notre Dame to play fast and hard and hustle harder than Illinois has ever seen, as they’re among the national leaders in points per game, steals per game, blocks per game and offensive rebounds per game.

    It will surely be interesting to see how Green lines her team up against the Irish on Saturday, but one way or another, Illini fans will have a good game on their hands. Tune in to NBC or its streaming affiliate Peacock on Saturday to watch the Illini battle with the Fighting Irish. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.



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