MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, Purdue completed an historic comeback against the Badgers.
And yes, Rutgers had eight players.
But there was no letdown for Shauna Green and company.
There was no taking the foot off the gas.
The University of Illinois won its first contest in the 2023 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, jettisoning Rutgers 81-55.
In the building, the sparse but passionate Illini faithful buzzed passionately. The NBA arena that hasn’t seen a ton of virtuoso performances in recent vintage saw two from the Illini galaxy.
Makira Cook paced the squad with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, while Genesis Bryant scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The two supernova talents combined to shoot 7-of-12 from behind the arc.
With a Friday night game against Maryland in the balance, Illinois took care of business at the Target Center.
Even the man himself, University of Illinois Chancellor Dr. Robert J. Jones encapsulated the night.
“Shauna Green is the real deal.”
The Illini were paced early by torrid shooting from Twin Cities native Adalia McKenzie and Genesis Bryant, who scored 16 of Illinois’ 18 first quarter points.
Illinois expanded its lead to 14 points at halftime. Illini guard Makira Cook blistered the Scarlet Knights with a 14-point outburst in the quarter. The Illini held Rutgets without a three-point field goal for the entire half.
After a blistering 17-of-29 (59%) shooting performance in the first half, the Illini didn’t let up. With a 68-42 lead entering the fourth quarter, Shauna Green and her staff were able to rest some key players and get some high leverage reps for several Illini reserves.
Super frosh Kaylene Smikile led Rutgers with 22 points, while Chyna Cornwell chipped in 14. This is only Rutgers’ second-ever loss in six second round Big Ten Tournament games.
Illinois won with ruthless efficiency. They scorched the nets into the great northern sky and put the rest of the conference on notice.