By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
December 7, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Maybe with this 18-point win over Rutgers, Shauna Green won’t have to hear so much about previous years of Illinois women’s basketball.
With the dominating 80-62 victory in the Big Ten Conference home opener, Illinois got its earliest league victory in a season and won its first scheduled league game at State Farm Center for the first time since a 70-65 win over Iowa on Dec. 28, 2016.
“I told the team tonight you have to block out this noise you’re going to hear because quite frankly, you haven’t really done anything yet,” Green said after the Illini head coach picked up her first Big Ten win as a head coach.
Just days after slugging out a defensive struggle in a 65-61 loss at No. 5 Indiana on Sunday, Illinois (8-2, 1-1 in Big Ten) went a 26-12 run in the first half to take a commanding lead and once again showcase its ability to have its offensive firepower overwhelm opponents at home. From that first half run, Illinois never allowed Rutgers’s deficit to get less than 13 throughout the rest of the evening.
Illinois converted on 9 of 28 from three-point range Wednesday night to overcome a sloppy turnover-plagued first quarter where Green looked exhaustingly frustrated at the Illini having more self-inflicted giveaways than field goals through the first 10 minutes.
“Is a coach really ever happy, right? There’s no doubt the turnovers were our biggest problem tonight,” Green said. “I keep going back to you play like you practice and we turned it over a lot (Tuesday) in practice. I try to keep a positive, optimistic outlook on things but I feared we might turn it over a lot early tonight too. And the turnovers were on us. They didn’t force many of those at all.”
Adelia McKenzie would briefly relieve the stress of the first-year Illinois head coach by simply taking the offense over late in shot clocks or having her defense result in instant offense. The 2020-21 Minnesota Miss Basketball out of high school finished her 31 minutes of action with 22 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.
“I keep thinking that one day I want my jersey in the team store at some point,” McKenzie said after the win. “I think everybody on our team should have that. On the court, it’s really fun to play fast and it makes it easier to just get the board and go with the basketball. It’s a mindset where I don’t want anybody on the other team to get a rebound.”
Following her career afternoon in Bloomington, Indiana of 33 points, Makira Cook posted 20 points including making 4 of 8 from beyond the three-point arc. Cook was able to run the offense with just one turnover in 32 minutes of action.
Rutgers (4-7, 0-2) and its short bench, due to having just eight total players for this entire 2022-23 season with no starters returning from last year, was no simply no match as they failed to slow the tempo of this transition-based Illini offense. The Scarlet Knights had more turnovers than field goals throughout the first three and a half quarters and still have yet to be within single digits of any power conference program they’ve played through the first two months of this season.
The win for the Illini, which came into Wednesday night at No. 20 in the latest NET rankings - a 173-spot improvement from this time last season, surpassed their win total from last season (seven) and was Illinois' second ever win over Rutgers and first since Jan. 7, 2017. In the 49th year of women’s college basketball at Illinois, Wednesday night marks just the 10th time that the Illini have started a season 8-2 or better.
Genesis Bryant has the evidence to show the physicality that Green is demanding her Illini play with as the North Carolina State transfer had to leave the floor in the second quarter after receiving a nasty blow to the head while taking a charge.
“Genesis is just so tough where she gives up her body all the time in the short amount of time she’s been here,” Green said. “I’ve seen her take hard charges in practice against our guys in practice and I just hold my breath every time.”
Bryant would return in the third quarter with a bandage above her left eye similarly to what Terrance Shannon Jr. was wearing last week late in the second half in the Illini men’s basketball team’s loss at Maryland. Bryant, who came in averaging 13 points per game, nearly had her average eclipsed by halftime and finished with 14 points.
“It was a hard fall and at first I was just trying to figure everything out but my mentality is if I can see with one eye, I’m going to want to play,” Bryant said.
Illinois will return to non-conference play this weekend with a road trip to a basketball landmark arena as the Illini will attempt to pick up its second true road victory of the 2022-23 season at Hinkle Fieldhouse for a 1 p.m. Sunday tip against Butler (5-4).
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