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What's gone wrong for Shauna Green and Illinois this season?

2023-24 hasn’t been as successful for the Illini.

TCR // David Pollak

In 2022, head coach Shauna Green burst onto the scene and led Illinois women’s basketball program to its first winning season in a while and tournament appearance in 20 years.

Expectations were high coming into the 2023-2024 season. The results, however, haven’t been sustained. Illinois has as many losses as they had throughout the entirety of last season. After 21 games Illinois sits at 10-11, with 4-7 record in Big Ten play.

So what’s led to underwhelming results?

SLOW STARTS

Throughout most of the season — against conference opponents — Illinois has gotten in the bad habit of struggling in the first quarter and slowing down coming out of halftime.

A week ago, Illinois was on the verge on an upset against then No. 16 Ohio State. They saw an 11-point lead dissipate in front of them in the second half, leading to a 67-59 loss at home.

This is the team we’ve seen throughout most of this season. A team that struggles to settle in and has to claw its way back to stay within reach of opponents, but ultimately is unable to close out games.

Last season, 17 out of Illinois’ 22 wins were by 10 or more points.

This year, Illinois has played more close games. Nine out of its 11 losses have seen the outcome determined by the game’s final minutes.

Three of Illinois’ last four wins have been blowout wins.

“I think in the last probably like month I feel like we’re starting to get really comfortable,” Green said.

Illinois needs to get off to better starts and learn how to close out close games down the stretch.

HOBBY-BOSTIC CONNECTION

Camille Hobby is one of — if not the most — notable additions for the Illini this season. The North Carolina State transfer has been on a run lately, averaging 14.2 points her last three games entering Monday night.

What’s been surprising about Hobby is her ability to adapt to a new program. As a fifth-year transfer Hobby is averaging 9.3 points, and 4.5 rebounds and has cemented her spot in the starting lineup.

As a center, Kendall Bostic is undersized. However, with Hobby’s presence as a center, moving Bostic to a forward position has given the Illini more opportunities to score in the paint.

“[Hobby] is an elite passer from the high post,” Bostic said. “So it’s been nice, when I have a mismatch, you know, she’ll go to the high post.”

Bostic and Hobby’s chemistry has been a pleasant development this season. Both have been an integral part of the Illinois offense as of late.

“[Hobby] has brought the scoring demanding presence from down low, and I think, it’s kind of opened a lot of things up for other people,” Bostic said.

However, the rest of the Illinois’ roster needs to shoot the ball better. Lately, they’ve gotten second chance opportunities, but they need to put the ball through the net. Period.

DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCES

Green often references the defense as being one of the biggest strengths of this Illinois team.

Illinois is ranked fifth in defense the Big Ten and is fresh off upsets against the top-two defensive teams in the conference (Minnesota, Michigan).

Adalia McKenzie has been one of keys in Illinois’ recent defensive success.

“She’s a huge X factor for us,” Bostic said. “When she is on and when she is everywhere playing defense, we’re a better team.”

McKenzie had eight rebounds and four steals in the upset against Michigan last week.

“It just spreads you know when someone’s flying around,” Green said. “Diving for rebounds and playing incredible defense, our other players feed off that.”

CAPTAIN VARIANCE

If we take a step back and look at Illinois’ statistical performances this season as compared to last — the stats suggest — Illinois has performed better against Big ten competition this season.

Part of the reason Illinois hasn’t been able to close out games is the variance of basketball, and not just any kind of basketball, but Big Ten basketball. Illinois has often found itself playing catch-up in close games.

On any given year, any program can have a successful season. Good programs will consistently compete with the upper echelon of the conference. Better programs emulate the sustained success of programs like Iowa, Ohio State and Indiana.

“Every team in this conference is capable of beating you if you don’t bring your best.” Green said.

The expectations have likely shifted the perception of the program this season, but going forward Illinois has the opportunity to change the narrative.

ON THE UPSWING?

Last season the Illini got off to an explosive start. Their struggles largely came late in the season as they lost three of their final six games as they entered the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois is now forced to climb its way up through the standings. It’s going to be tall task, and they’ve yet to face No. 3 Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State, three of the top-five teams in the Big Ten.

However, momentum is seemingly on Illinois’ side, as they had won two straight, including an upset win at Michigan, heading into Monday’s loss at Purdue.

“We’re a very different team,” Bostic said. “People ask, ‘what happened in the beginning?’ I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows.”

Although early on, it looked like Illinois was due for a disappointing season, Green has remained consistent in her messaging and has Illinois playing much better basketball as of late.

“I think it’s just taken us a little bit longer than we all would have liked,” Green said. “If you can start feeling that rhythm and coming together in February, then we’ll take it.”