West Palm Beach, FL — The Illini bounced back from a heartbreaking loss on Wednesday with a hard-fought win on Thursday. It was a back-and-forth affair, but thanks to improved shooting and smart defense down the stretch, Illinois came out on top against the UTEP Miners 81-71.
Due to a mix-up, both teams wore dark blue jerseys with orange trim in this game, making for a less-than-pleasant viewing experience if you subscribed to FloHoops to catch the game.
Against Arkansas, Illinois not only struggled to convert from deep but seemed reluctant to shoot the three-ball at all, going 0-for-8. The Massimino Court’s baskets must have appeared easier to take on than they did on Wednesday, as the Illini shot 7-for-18 against UTEP.
The Orange and Blue also shared the rock better on Thursday. Of their 28 made field goals, 18 were assisted. For comparison, they had 10 assists on 25 field goals on Wednesday.
It was a true chess match between Shauna Green and Keitha Adams, with both head coaches going back and forth with different looks.
While Green’s teams live and die almost exclusively by the man-to-man defensive scheme, UTEP forward Jane Asinde’s success inside forced the Illini defense to adjust. A couple of different looks, including the 2-3 zone.
The choice to deviate from its typical man-to-man defense helped Illinois down the stretch, forcing 16 UTEP turnovers and scoring 21 points off of those turnovers.
Genesis Bryant and Makira Cook spent 40 and 37 minutes on the floor, respectively. The senior guard duo are both averaging above 32 minutes in games they’ve played (Cook missed the first three games of the season).
The high usage rate can mean one of two things: Green trusts her veterans on the floor, or that there are no other quality options at the 1 and 2.
The Fighting Illini improve to 7-6, snapping a three-game losing streak, while the Miners drop their fifth straight and fall to 4-8.
- Adalia McKenzie (ILL): 19 points, 7/8 FG
- Makira Cook (ILL): 17 points, 9 assists
- Genesis Bryant (ILL): 17 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 3/3 3PT
- Jane Asinde (UTEP): 20 points, 8/10 FT
Illinois will go on its winter break with ten days of no action before traveling to Bloomington, Indiana to play the No. 16 ranked Indiana Hoosiers. Tip-off on New Year’s Eve for the Fighting Illini’s second Big Ten game of the season is at 11:30 a.m. and will be available on the Big Ten Network.