By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
January 5, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- This current run of success by the Illinois women’s basketball program avoided a letdown game against an in-state rivalry opponent known for having the Illini’s number.
Following a 90-86 victory over then-No. 12 Iowa on New Year’s Day, Illinois picked up its first win over Northwestern in eighth seasons four days later in State Farm Center by surviving a second-half comeback attempt. The 85-79 win over the Wildcats, which was Illinois’ first in the last 15 matchups against Northwestern, was highlighted by double-figure scoring efforts from each of the five Illini starters including a game-high 23 points by Makira Cook.
Cook, the transfer who followed Illini first-year head coach Shauna Green from Dayton, is up to seven straight games of 20 points points or more in contests where she’s been active and is the first Illini to do so since at least 2008-09. Cook and Amber Moore are the only two Illini to hit the 20 points mark in four consecutive games since at least the 2008-09 season. Cook is up to eight 20-point or more showings on the season.
Cook’s eight points in a third quarter from hell for the Illini (14-2, 4-1 in Big Ten Conference) that saw Northwestern come out of the halftime locker room to score 29 points is what kept Illinois in the lead even though Joe McKeown’s Wildcats were doing their best to create an upset in Champaign. Northwestern (6-8, 0-4 in Big Ten) got 19 of its 52 second-half points from its bench and a layup from senior forward Kaylah Rainey got the Wildcats to a 73-71 deficit with five minutes and 18 seconds remaining.
Illinois all but pulled away for its ninth consecutive win at home after a 6-2 run of it own thanks to a pair of baskets by Adalia McKenzie as the sophomore forward from Minnesota ended with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Kendall Bostic got her fifth double-double effort on Thursday night with 15 points and 16 rebounds (including half of those coming on the offensive end) after tallying just six across her sophomore campaign last season and none as a freshman at Michigan State. Bostic led all Big Ten Conference players in rebounding in the 2021-22 season and set the Illinois single-season record with her 11.4 per game mark.
Through 14 wins, Illinois led for over 500 of the 560 possible minutes this season and this contest against Northwestern, which qualified for and won a game in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, was no different as Northwestern never led for one second Thursday night.
Illinois, which came into this game leading the nation in three-point shooting percentage (41.9) finished this Big Ten Conference game making 12 of 28 but the Illini were 4 of 12 from three-point range in the second half and received nothing from the perimeter shooting of Jada Peebles who came into State Farm Center ranked third of all NCAA players in three-point shooting percentage.
Illinois is now 11-0 when they shoot at least 45 percent but Northwestern’s stingy perimeter defense forced the Illini to keep grinding out a 41.8 percent shooting night (28 of 67). The final determining factor was Illinois being able to generate 19 free throw attempts in a second half after seeing just five attempts in the first 20 minutes of action.
Following a seven-game winning streak, Illinois will next arguably see its toughest test of the 2022-23 season when they travel to face No. 3 Ohio State. In her six seasons at Dayton where she racked up a 127-50 record, Shauna Green’s program couldn’t get the in-state rival Buckeyes on the schedule but in three days she’ll coach her first game in the Schottenstein Center - a place Illinois women’s basketball hasn’t won since Jan. 6, 2013.
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