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

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Cook, McKenzie lead Illinois past Missouri State in inaugural WBIT game

Angel Saldivar
Senior Guard Makira Cook surges past Missouri’s defense in the first half, drawing a foul with her offensive drive on Thursday.

After two weeks off competitive play, the Illini (14-15) returned to the State Farm Center for a post-season battle with the Missouri State Lady Bears (23-9) in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament. The Illini were given a No. 4 seed in the NCAA’s brand new postseason tournament, which gives another opportunity for non-March Madness participants to continue their seasons.

The Illini, fresh off the news that senior guard Makira Cook would be returning for a fifth year of college hoops, entered with fresh energy and a chance to provide fans with extra games and a trophy. As usual, the starters were Cook, senior guard Genesis Bryant, junior guard Adalia McKenzie, fifth-year center Camille Hobby and senior forward Kendall Bostic.

A quick start followed for both teams, with the Lady Bears jumping out to an early lead before the Illini tied it up at the first media timeout. Close, physical and high-intensity defensive possessions defined the first quarter as both teams battled it out at the rim. The Lady Bears took advantage of their 10 rebounds and had a 19-17 lead heading into the second quarter.

Missouri State went on an 11-2 run to begin the second quarter before a three from Cook halted the scoring outburst. However, Lacy Stokes kept scoring for the Lady Bears, with 15 points through the first 14 minutes of the game, forcing a furious head coach Shauna Green to call a timeout with six minutes left in the half.

Cook pushed the Illini within seven, hitting her second three of the evening with 15 points through the first 16 minutes of the game. The Illini struggled to hold onto the ball in the second quarter, recording four turnovers, but ultimately kept the game well within reach, trailing 37-32 at halftime.

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The Lady Bears began the second half with the ball, scoring a quick jumper to set the tempo for the second half. A defensive stop followed, and a corner three made it a 10-point lead for the visitors. Cook got the Illini on the board in the second half, which started an 8-0 run as they got it to a one-possession game.

McKenzie gave the Illini their first lead since the first quarter, as the State Farm Center erupted in cheers from the Illini faithful. Missouri State was forced to call a timeout with 1:11 left in the third quarter a 9-0 run from Illinois put the hosts up 51-48. Despite the slow start in the first few minutes of the half, the Illini fully took over, and they led 55-51 heading into the final frame.

McKenzie was on fire to start the fourth, adding to her impressive point total in the second half. The junior guard almost singlehandedly gave the Illini the lead, with 15 points in the second half before checking out for some rest with 7:14 to go in the game. The Illini kept their feet on the gas pedal, holding a 65-59 lead at the under-five media timeout.

The game was in for a tight finish, as the Lady Bears went on a 6-0 run that cut the deficit to three with 2:42 left in the second half. The Illini defense stood strong, holding out to force the Lady Bears into fouling them to keep the game alive. Illinois pulled through, taking the win and extending its season to Sunday.

Green said it was a big deal for the program to get back-to-back postseasons. She also expressed joy over the win, emphasizing how important it is to have won today.

“We live to see another day,” Green said. “We can’t wait to be back on Sunday.”

The Illini are back on Sunday for the final time at the State Farm Center in the 2023-24 season, hosting the Stony Brook Seawolves in round two of the WBIT.



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About the Contributors
Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor
Hello! I’m Adam and I’m a senior majoring in journalism. I’m one of the assistant sports editors, and this is my second year with The DI. I love to talk about sports, so if you have any questions or desire to talk about a random athlete from 10 years ago or why Messi > Ronaldo, contact me at my email below!
Angel Saldivar, Assistant Photo Editor
Hey there, you might recognize me as the photographer who's often at community events in Champaign-Urbana with a camera in hand. I'm currently finishing my Journalism degree at the University of Illinois. Since my first year in 2020, I have been capturing moments for the Illini Media Company, and I've recently become the Assistant Photo Editor. Filmmaking is another passion of mine – shoutout to my film club Illini Film and Video! Keep an eye out, as you could see me filming the next big hit on campus. When I am not using the camera, I am usually playing the drums. Should you have any inquiries, please don't hesitate to send me an email!
ILLordle: Play now