Illinois (8-2 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (4-7 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Back in the win column
After coming off a nail-biting loss to No. 5 Indiana on the road, the Illini made it a priority to take their Big Ten home opener against Rutgers.
Rutgers had been struggling as of late dropping all of its games against Power 5 schools. Their only wins have came against Hofstra, NJIT, NC Central and Cornell, a group with a combined record of 17-21 (only Cornell posed a record above .500). Rutgers, however, is still no pushover team. Coming into this game they battled it out with No. 3 Ohio State, keeping it close and only losing the contest by 12 points.
The Knights seem to lean heavily on the talents of Kaylene Smikle (14.5 points per game) on the offensive end, but Rutgers as a group is the worst scoring team in the Big Ten (averaging 63.3 pts a game). When you combine that with leading the Big Ten in turnovers, you can expect a-lot of empty trips down the floor from the Knights. If you have learned anything from Big Ten basketball, however, you know that any team can win any night, and the Illini knew that they couldn’t let off the gas petal.
The first 6 minutes of the opening quarter was tight, with neither team able to grab much of a lead. With the score locked up 11-9 in favor of the Illini with under 4 minutes left in the first, Illinois’ Brynn Shoup-Hill opened up the flood gates with a bucket from beyond the arc. The Illini would go on to make three more from deep before the quarters end, capping off a 9-0 run.
The second quarter saw the Illini take advantage of Rutgers’ poor shooting. Behind Genesis Bryant’s quarter-leading 10 points, the Illini were clicking on the offensive end. But most impressive was Illinois’ defense holding Rutgers without a field goal for the final 5 minutes in the half. Makira Cook’s first-half 12 points lifted Illinois to a 40-22 halftime lead.
Then second half was closing time for the Illini, and Adalia McKenzie decided to take charge. Rutgers’ interior defense was getting torched by McKenzie as she was getting anything she wanted in the paint. She finished with 13 points in the half, collecting a double-double on the way out. The Illini get their first Big Ten victory on the season.
Final: Illinois 80 - Rutgers 62
Illini Top Performers:
- Adalia McKenzie: 22 pts | 13 rebs | 3 ast | 8-14 fg
- Makira Cook: 20 pts | 5 ast | 4-8 3pt
- Genesis Bryant: 14 pts | 3-4 fg | 7-7 ft
- Kendall Bostic: 9 pts | 7 rebs | 3-5 fg | 3-4 ft
- Brynn Shoup-Hill: 9 pts | 6 rebs | 2 ast
First conference W for @Shauna_Green #Illini | #HTTO | #OneWay pic.twitter.com/ayQE2s9bgl— Illinois W Basketball (@IlliniWBB) December 8, 2022
Illinois (9-2 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten) at Butler (5-5 Overall)
INDIANAPOLIS — Illinois nearly escapes Butler’s late game efforts.
The Illini continued their winning ways against the Butler Bulldogs at the iconic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Bulldogs coming into this one finally got back into the win column after beating Southern Indiana last time out. They dropped their previous two beforehand, losing to Big East opponents St. John’s and DePaul. Butler statically has found itself in the bottom of the Big East early on. They rely on transfer Rachel McLimore, who is the team’s leading scorer averaging 13 points a contest. Her, along with her running mate Anna Mortag, who is a great scorer and tremendous rebounder, could give the Illini some headaches through out the game.
Defense was the name of the game for both teams starting out, with both teams struggling offensively. They both shot below 40% for the quarter, with no real progress being made for either team. Butler held the advantage after the first 10 minutes of play, 13-11.
The Illini found their footing in the second quarter. After trading early buckets, the Illini would go on a 14-0 scoring run over a span of 6 minutes. It was not just one player getting the job done, six Illini helped in the scoring effort to elevate them to a 29-24 lead over Butler heading into the halftime.
Midway through the third quarter the Illini broke the game open. Behind some amazing defense, Illinois went on a 10-1 run to expand their lead to 15. Butler then proceeded to close that gap with a run of its own, trailing by 6 heading into the last frame.
This was a big moment for the Illini to finding out who they are as a team when push came to shove. With them being favorites on the road at a very iconic venue, holding on to a slim lead against a very disciplined Butler team, could the Illini pull out a much-needed win?
The Illini came across their first hurdle when Butler managed to take the lead, with 7:40 remaining. Next possession the Illini took up all of the shot-clock to find a clear look for senior Jada Peebles, who knocked down a monster three to take the lead. Illinois under that momentum pushed the lead to 10. But the Bulldogs knocked down two consecutive threes in back-to-back possessions to get back within striking distance.
With 19 seconds left in the game the Butler Bulldogs came out of a timeout down by 2 (65-63) with a chance to tie and go to overtime, or possibly win the contest. The clock dwindled down the final remaining seconds. Butler’s Tenley Dowell rose up from behind the arch, but the game-winning shot was blocked and collected by Illinois’ Peebles. The Illini escape a close one.
Final: Illinois 65 - Butler 63
Top Illini Performers:
- Makira Cook: 22 pts | 4 rebs | 3 asts
- Adalia McKenzie: 13 pts | 12 rebs | 2 asts
- Kendall Bostic: 8 pts | 11 rebs | 5 blks
- Brynn Shoup-Hill: 5 pts | 9 rebs
- Jada Peebles: 5 pts | 3 rebs | 1 ast | 1 blk
Defend, defend, defend.@jpeebs_ steps up with the clutch rejection #Illini | #HTTO | #OneWay pic.twitter.com/vWZu9xy3Ls— Illinois W Basketball (@IlliniWBB) December 12, 2022
The Illini take a week off in preparation for McBride Homes Annual Braggin’ Rights game against (11-1) Missouri.
The game is set for Sunday in Columbia. Tipoff is at 4 p.m. on SEC Network.
Big Ten Standings (as of Monday morning)
- #3 Ohio State (10-0 Overall, 2-0 Big Ten)
- #4 Indiana (10-0 Overall, 2-0 Big Ten)
- #16 Iowa (8-3 Overall, 2-0 Big Ten)
- Nebraska (8-3 Overall, 2-0 Big Ten)
- #14 Michigan (9-1 Overall, 1-0 Big Ten)
- Purdue (9-2 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten)
- Illinois (9-2 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten)
- #20 Maryland (9-3 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten)
- Minnesota (5-5 Overall, 1-1 Big Ten)
- Northwestern (4-5 Overall, 0-1 Big Ten)
- Penn State (8-3 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)
- Michigan State (6-5 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)
- Rutgers (5-7 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)
- Wisconsin (4-8 Overall, 0-2 Big Ten)