Fighting Illini Women Win WBIT Tournament Championship


Published on April 4 2024 5:44 am
Last Updated on April 4 2024 6:05 am

INDIANAPOLIS – The Fighting Illini are champions.

Behind a big second-half surge, Illinois clinched the inaugural WBIT title in a 71-57 victory over Villanova at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday night. The victory marked the program's first-ever postseason title.

After totaling five points through the first two quarters due to foul trouble, Makira Cook registered a game-high 27 points by pouring in 22 points in the second half. Shooting 7-for-11 from the floor over the final 20 minutes, Cook also amassed five assists, two rebounds, one block, and one steal.

Genesis Bryant tallied 11 of her 17 points in the first half and also finished the night with five rebounds and four assists.

Kendall Bostic clinched a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds. She also had one assist.

Camille Hobby totaled eight points and 10 rebounds, blocking two shots. 

The Wildcats opened the scoring, but the Illini were not behind for long. Bryant got her layup to fall before making a third-chance bucket on two offensive rebounds just over one minute later. Villanova's advantage moved to four points, but a 5-0 Illinois run gave the Orange and Blue their first lead of the night. Bostic opened her account during that stretch before Bryant knocked down the team's first 3-pointer of the game, putting the Illini in front, 9-8, through the opening five minutes.

After going without a point for over three minutes, the Wildcats went back in front, one of five lead changes over the next two minutes. Five straight points from Cook put Illinois ahead by four before Bostic – who started 4-for-4 from the field – accounted for the Illini's final four points of the first frame.

Holding a 20-15 lead through the opening 10 minutes, the Illini's lead grew to eight after Gretchen Dolan connected from beyond the arc early in the second period of play. The Wildcats cut their deficit in half with a 4-0 run over the next 90 seconds, but Bryant made her second trey of the day to put the Illini up, 26-19. 

Bostic moved into double figures with a layup just under four minutes later, but an 11-1 run from the Wildcats to close the half gave Villanova a 32-29 edge at the break. Bryant tallied a team-high 11 points before intermission, while Bostic was not far behind with 10 points after starting 5-for-6 from the floor.

Villanova extended its advantage to five points 30 seconds into the second half, but Illinois pieced together a 16-0 run to jump back in front. Cook made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions before Bryant made a driving layup to force a Wildcat timeout.

A Cook pullup jumper continued that scoring stretch before Hobby corralled an offensive board and made the second-effort attempt. Cook's third 3-pointer, all of which came during that 16-0 run, capped off the four-minute run and put the Illini in front by double digits, 45-34.

A 5-0 Wildcat run followed before Bryant somehow got her crafty finish to fall. Bryant then assisted Hobby, who found a gap in the defense and made a layup. The Illini led by as many as 11 in the frame, and they went into the final quarter with a 50-44 edge.

Cook rattled in a jumper out of the break before McKenzie got in the passing lane, forced a steal, and found Bostic in transition. Bostic then scored on an inbound pass from

Cook, who then made two free throws. That 8-0 run over the first three-and-a-half minutes of the quarter brought the Illini's advantage back up to double digits, 58-44.

Hobby and Cook accounted for the Orange and Blue's next 11 points, which saw the Illini hold a 67-55 edge with two minutes remaining. Making free throws late in the game, the Orange and Blue finished off the win to secure their first postseason title in program history.