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

Illinois women’s basketball defeats Washington State, advances to WBIT Championship

Senior+Guard+Makira+Cook+holds+the+ball+at+the+top+of+the+key+against+Nebraska+on+March+3.+Cook+led+the+Illini+with+20+points+on+8-13+on+Monday%E2%80%99s+win+over+Washington+State.
Matt Stepp
Senior Guard Makira Cook holds the ball at the top of the key against Nebraska on March 3. Cook led the Illini with 20 points on 8-13 on Monday’s win over Washington State.

After a tumultuous 2023-24 season, the Illini absolutely dominated in their postseason journey and finished today with a semifinal victory over the Washington State Cougars. With this victory, the team will play at Hinkle Fieldhouse one last time to take on the Villanova Wildcats for the championship title. 

To continue with a familiar lineup, head coach Shauna Green kept it as usual. Senior guards Genesis Bryant and Makira Cook, junior guard Adalia McKenzie, fifth-year center Camille Hobby and senior forward Kendall Bostic all took to the court in anticipation of an intense matchup. 

The ball began in the hands of the Cougars, but they turned it over in the first possession. Immediately after, the Illini got on the board first with a layup from Cook. Illinois responded well to Washington State’s offense, playing tough woman-to-woman defense, and McKenzie grabbed a steal in the early minutes of the game.

While the Cougars were slightly taller and bigger than the Illini, Green’s squad was unfazed. Cook took an early three-pointer, racking up seven points only four minutes into the game. Additionally, Bryant used her athletic footwork and elite ball movement to score her first points of the game in the paint. 

The Illini took a 15-6 lead a little over halfway through the first quarter. The Cougars were making shots, but the Illini were making even more. After the first quarter, the Illini had a 23-14 lead, shooting 61% and rebounding the ball 10 times, with seven boards coming from Bostic.

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The second quarter continued to be electric for Illinois. Cook scored an and-one for a three-point play to start the second period and sank a midrange jumper soon after. She proved to be versatile everywhere; from the midrange to behind the arc, Cook was unstoppable. 

McKenzie was defensively active, always getting her hands in the face of the opponent. With seven minutes left in the quarter, Illinois had a 30-16 lead, demonstrating its talent on both ends of the court. Washington State began creeping up on Illinois for a split second, but the Illini stayed strong and continued to score with ease. 

Bryant, Cook and McKenzie were the only players for Illinois to score in the second quarter, but they dominated all around. At the half, Illinois held a 42-28 lead after minimizing turnovers and shooting efficiently on offense.

Beginning the second half, the Illini came out strong again, scoring first and forcing turnovers. Bryant sank a three-pointer two minutes into the third quarter, and the Illini had a 19-point lead. 

Cook failed to score any points in the third quarter, but the team stepped up behind her. After 30 minutes of playing, Illinois maintained the lead at 62-45. 

Freshman guard Gretchen Dolan kicked off the final quarter with a three-point shot, making Illinois’ bench crazed. With 8:47 to go in the game, Washington State called a timeout as Illinois took a 22-point lead.

Even with such a large gap, the Illini did not slow down their hustle. The scoring never stopped, and the team continued confidently in the shots they took. In fact, Green felt comfortable enough with their lead to bring in more players off the bench. Freshman guard Cori Allen brought excitement to the team with a three-pointer near the end of the game. 

With four minutes to go, the Illini had a 78-52 lead over the Cougars, and it was beginning to look like a championship game was in their future. Even as the team went scoreless in the final three minutes of the game, the Illini ultimately secured a massive 23-point victory to end the WBIT semifinals. 

Illinois will remain in Indianapolis for the WBIT championship game on Wednesday at 6 p.m. After a season with many ups and downs, it’s safe to say they have proven themselves worthy in their postseason activities.

 

@tess_eken

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About the Contributors
Tess Eken
Tess Eken, Assistant Sports Editor
Hi everyone! My name is Tess and I’m currently a junior studying communications with a minor in Spanish. I joined The Daily Illini because I wanted to combine my love for sports with my love for writing, so I get the best of both worlds here! Outside of journalism, I love baking and spending time with my friends and family. If you have any questions or just want to talk sports with me, feel free to email me using the button below. I-L-L!
Matt Stepp
Matt Stepp, Visual Director
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