WASHINGTON — All eyes were on the Illini on Saturday.
Literally, all of them.
Illinois competed in the Citi Shamrock Classic in Washington, D.C. in a game broadcast on NBC, but fell short against Notre Dame 79-68.
Genesis Bryant delivered another big performance, finishing with 31 points, and Makira Cook made her regular-season debut but struggled to settle in, finishing with 14 points.
Freshman Hannah Hidalgo dominated for the Irish, finishing with 24 points, 8 assists, and 6 steals. Add in Maddy Wesbeld’s 24 points and 8 rebounds and it was too much for the Illini to handle.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Illinois (2-2) struggled to settle in as the Illini fell behind early, starting the game with a turnover, a theme throughout the matchup.
Illinois struggled to score as missed layups and 11 points off of turnovers in the first quarter led to Notre Dame (3-1) taking a 21-16 lead heading into the second quarter.
Cook struggled to make an impact, scoring only 2 points in the first quarter. Illinois also struggled to rebound, leading to Notre Dame receiving multiple second-chance opportunities.
Bryant kicked off the second quarter with a three-point shot from downtown. However, Illinois struggled to keep up.
Throughout the frame, it felt like the Illini were hanging on and just needed to go on a run to have a chance at winning this game.
Illinois was able to hang on in the first half. However, the second half exposed Illinois’ biggest weaknesses on the young season. Bryant finished the first half with 13 points.
Once the third quarter began, Notre Dame got into a rhythm and never looked back as Hannah Hidalgo dominated on defense and dominated in the paint while also drawing multiple fouls.
Here it was rebounding which hurt Illinois as they were inconsistent in rebounding. Illinois recorded only 5 rebounds in the third quarter.
As Coach Shauna Green gave some of her starters rest, Notre Dame took advantage of a smaller lineup on the floor as the Irish fed forward Kylee Watson for 6 points in the third quarter.
By the time fourth quarter came around, Illinois was hanging on by a thread, but as the clock ticked the game was quickly escaping Illinois.
As Notre Dame kept the same pace, a sense of urgency kicked in for Illinois. Suddenly Coach Green’s team played with agressivity.
Bryant and Cook led the charge scoring 8 points each, however, it was too little too late as the Illini failed to string up enough momentum for a legitimate chance at a comeback.
Bryant is the clear early season MVP for the Illini. Even when she was unable to score, she induced critical fouls for Illinois.
Speaking of fouls, the Illini shot 71% from the charity stripe. Illinois has been efficient in free throws and will need those guaranteed points in future high-profile matchups.
Illinois displayed a more aggressive version of basketball on Saturday. If the Illini want to keep competing against teams top-ranked teams, they will have to play with the same sense of urgency shown late in the game minus the turnovers.
We saw very little of Illinois depth going forward Illinois will need the bench to contribute as Cook and Bryant did a lot of heavy lifting in this matchup.
- Illinois needs to fix its rebounding issues. Notre Dame scored 15 points off second-chance possessions,
- Turnover trouble: Illinois gave up 21 turnovers resulting in 31 points for Notre Dame.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This is the stuff you want to see from the Illini, getting their guards working in tandem— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) November 18, 2023
Worry too much about one, and you open doors for the second side stuff to hit
Notre Dame has been good shutting this down today, but will be key to see if Illinois can generate more pic.twitter.com/3IygSWO6Bc
Illinois’ next game will kickstart its five-game homestand against Canisius next Sunday.
The game will be at 1 p.m. and can be streamed on BIG+.