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Early mistakes haunt Illinois in close loss to No. 16 Indiana

The Illini come up short of an upset against the Hoosiers.

TCR // David Pollak

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Illinois has yet to beat a quality opponent.

2023 began with Illinois upsetting one of the best teams in the country in Iowa and star Caitlin Clark. It ends, however, with a disappointing loss against No. 16 Indiana.

Illinois came into Assembly Hall on Sunday in search of its first marquee win of the season. It didn’t feel close early, but the Illini clawed their way back to make it a game that came down to the last minute before they lost 77-71.

Illinois (6-6) dropped its second straight against a Big Ten opponent and dropped its 16th straight against Indiana (11-1), who is in the midst of a 10-game win streak.

Late in the fourth quarter, Indiana’s Chloe Moore-McNeil found Yarden Garzon open for three to take a 4-point lead and effectively ice the game with 55 seconds to go. But at this point, the Illini were paying for their prior mistakes.

Illinois struggled early as it shot 33% from field goal range in the first quarter. Early on, it looked like a battle in the paint between Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and Illinois’ Kendall Bostic.

Illinois struggled to get any momentum going offensively due to 10 first-half turnovers. When Illinois didn't turn over the ball, it took too many tough shots.

Defensively, the Illini couldn’t stop Indiana in the paint. IU’s Holmes dominated in that area scoring 15. Indiana scored 30 points in the paint in the first half alone.

Bostic did most of the heavy lifting as she led Illinois in scoring with 14 points (most of them in the paint) going into the locker room, trailing 31-37.

In the second half, Indiana’s inconsistencies and missed shots kept Illinois in the game. Illinois didn’t shoot much better but it was able to force fouls and get to the paint combined with Indiana allowing 7 turnovers helped the Illini to go on a 10-0 run and inch within two going into the fourth quarter.

Makira Cook had a quiet day before the fourth quarter. Cook shot 50% from the field in the second half and ended the night with a season-high 24 points.

Cook also netted 5 assists and looked more like the player the Illini had in the 2022-23 season. Late in the fourth, It was a full team effort as the Illini executed in transition and kept taking advantage of Indiana’s turnover blunders.

Ultimately, Moore-McNeil played with command late in the fourth quarter, and again, dominated in the paint. the Illini weren’t able to take a lead.

Illinois repeat fatal mistakes cost them late

Illini failed to execute the paint early. In fact, the Illini went 13-of-29 in layup situations.

Illinois was able to make it close late, but the Illini’s early inconsistencies cost them. Coach Shauna Green was visibly frustrated on multiple occasions.

The Illini have not been able to execute in a late-game situation. They have come within a few possessions in most of their losses, but the Illini must learn how to win in crunch time.

They had a chance to steal games against Mizzou and Marquette, lost in heartbreaking fashion to Arkansas, and now came up short against Indiana. Flip a couple of those losses and the season looks a lot better going into 2024.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Gen Bryant hits halftime buzzer to cut the lead to 6 going into halftime!

UP NEXT

The Illini kick off 2024 with more Big Ten matchups, starting with a showdown against Wisconsin.

The game will be available on BTN+ Sunday, Jan. 7 at 2 p.m.