Illini Guard Adalia McKenzie Talks WBIT Championship With The IlliniGuys, Presented by HX Home Solutions

(Editor's note: IlliniGal Adalia McKenzie appears each week on the IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular radio show courtesy HX Home Solutions, which offers $1,000 off any project - just mention "IlliniGuys" to get your discount!)

April 6, 2024

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

Larry Smith: Adalia, great to see you. Congratulations! Has it sunk in yet?

Adalia McKenzie: No, it hasn't! You know, I'm like 'Oh my gosh, like, I'm a champ!'

LS: What was this run like? I mean, we talked after the big 10 tournament and we thought this season could be over, but there was the chance to get an invite to this (Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament). Talk us through kind the emotions of getting the second opportunity to play another tournament.

AM: Yeah, it felt great to be able to still play. And just having an opportunity to play with this specific group. Like I would have took that any day. And it's just amazing, like, how the run that we made and just like the growth and the steps that we took. It was really good to see.

LS: It was exciting to see as well. Obviously, Jada Peebles suffered the season-ending injury (midseason), but otherwise you guys were healthy. And I think those of us watching felt the same way that it was great to get the second opportunity because you weren't always healthy during the season.  It was great to see you and to get a chance to actually see what you can do. And you played your best basketball in March at the right time.

AM: Yeah, it just seems like we just pulled it all together. And in March, you got to be your best, so we definitely were that.

LS: Matt Stevens on has a great story about you posted a day or two ago, on the front page about your defensive effort and you taking on Villanova's top scorer and just locking her down the second half to make sure you got this championship.

AM: Yeah, I love guarding the best player in (All-American Lucy) Olsen. She's a really good player, you know. She moves a lot, she can shoot it and hit pull up jumpers really nice. And honestly, like, I just watched a lot of film with Coach McIntyre and just do some studying, like, what she likes and what her favorite spots and stuff. I took pride on the mission to lock her up and not let her you know, go off, you know, because I know that in games that they won, she had like 25-plus points, you know. In the first half, she kind of got hot, but coach (Shauna Green) was like 'this next half, lock her up. Like you need it make it really hard for her'.

LS: And I believe, according to Matt's story, she only scored six points in those final 20 minutes because of your defense. You talked about during the season when the team's record was not the best, you said 'we're proud of what we're doing. We're working hard. We're improving even though we don't have the wins'. Is this now redemption for that statement and all the hard work you put in going back to last summer?

AM: Yeah, for sure. Like we just put it all together, you know. Throughout the season, it was rough and we faced adversity, it didn't go how we wanted to but it ended how we wanted it to. So it just feels really good to just be able to experience this moment.

LS: Yeah. What was the bus ride back from Indianapolis like? What were all the players talking about?

AM: We were talking, we were dancing. We were singing rapping songs. Like it was probably the best bus ride I ever had in my life!

LS: Have you ever experienced anything like this before? Did you win a state championship?

AM: I won sectionals, but it wasn't state (in Minnesota). So this was like my first championship of the 'big boys'.

LS: What does that feel like to know that you guys finish on this high note and then building for next year? And you know, looking to be possibly one of the top teams in the Big 10 next year, if not the country?

AM: Yeah, you know, the possibility of most of us returning I feel like that's just a scary thing. You know, like, we just played our best in the WBIT tournament, we got a championship and I want to say that's just the beginning. We're gonna build from that. So you know, having that same momentum with the same people, it's a real exciting thing.



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