Indiana Daily Student

No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball heads to Illinois to face surprising No. 21 Illini team

Freshman forward Lilly Meister dives after a ball Jan. 15, 2023 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The Hoosiers travel to Urbana-Champaign to face Illinois on Wednesday.
Freshman forward Lilly Meister dives after a ball Jan. 15, 2023 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The Hoosiers travel to Urbana-Champaign to face Illinois on Wednesday.

Riding a four-game win streak since suffering its only loss of the season, No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball travels to face No. 21 Illinois at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Urbana-Champaign. The game is the second contest between the teams this season, after Indiana won the first matchup 65-61 in Bloomington. 

Before the first game against the Hoosiers, the Illini had shown they were better than last season in their early-season games but had only played a single game against a power-conference opponent to that point. As a result, it was difficult to judge just how much Illinois had improved over the offseason. 

Now that college basketball is fully into conference play, however, the Illini have proven the surprise of the Big Ten women’s basketball season so far, with first-year head coach Shauna Green helping orchestrate an incredible turnaround. 

Last season, the Illini went 7-20 overall and finished in the bottom two of the conference standings for the fifth year in a row. With a 15-3 record so far this season and 5-2 in Big Ten games, Illinois already has more overall and conference wins than any single season since 2014-15. As a result of their improvement, the Illini are currently ranked No. 21 after earning their first AP poll ranking since 2000. 

After the Hoosiers’ win over the Illini on Dec. 4, Indiana head coach Teri Moren praised the work Green has done in just a short time with her team. 

“Hats off to Illinois, that's not Illinois of old. Shauna and her staff have those kids playing hard, playing well, playing disciplined — by far the best defensive team we faced. They have a lot of interesting pieces, can shoot it, certainly are athletic, attack, play aggressive,” Moren said. “Shauna is a great addition to this league, and it's just going to make it even more difficult than what it is.” 

Outside of the loss to Indiana, Illinois’ only missteps this season have come in a six-point defeat on the road against No. 2 Ohio State and a three-point loss to the University of Delaware in an early-season tournament. 

At home, Illinois holds an undefeated 9-0 record, with its best win of the season coming on New Year’s Day against No. 10 Iowa. The Illini beat the preseason conference favorites 90-86 to earn their first ranked victory at home since the 2014-15 season. 

In the first matchup against the Hoosiers — when Indiana was still without graduate guard Grace Berger due to injury — the Illini nearly pulled off the upset thanks to winning the battle of the boards, finishing the game with a plus-seven rebounding advantage. Overall this season, Illinois has won games thanks to its ability to control the glass — they have easily the best rebounding margin in the conference at over plus-10 per game. 

In particular, junior forward Kendall Bostic leads the Big Ten in individual rebounds, averaging over 10 per game and pulling down 14 in Bloomington earlier this year. In addition to the rebounding, Illinois’ upset bid was largely led by junior guard Makira Cook. Cook averages 18.3 points per game as Illinois’ leading scorer, but turned in a career-high 33 against Indiana and had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute. 

“Number three was lighting it up down the stretch, and we knew that she was the hot hand, so they were going to go to her,” senior forward Mackenzie Holmes said after defeating Illinois. “So I just tried to stay consistent, stay down, just get a hand in her face and hope for the best.” 

Holmes and the Hoosiers got the stops and the win the first time but will have to do a better job rebounding and slowing down Cook to secure the season sweep. 

The second matchup between the Hoosiers and Illini will tip off at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the State Farm Center and will be available to watch on BTN+. 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season. 

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