Bryant shines as Illini reach WBIT Final Four with win against Tulsa

Mar. 29—TULSA, Okla. — The Illinois women's basketball team will be playing into the month of April.

The Illini guaranteed that possibility with a 69-61 quarterfinal victory on Thursday night against Tulsa at the Donald W. Reynolds Center during the Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament.

It means Illinois (17-15) will play the program's first-ever April game with Shauna Green's team booking a place in the final four of the inaugural WBIT against Washington State in Monday's semifinals at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Cougars (21-14) reached Indy after a 63-61 win against Toledo in Pullman, Wash.

"We survived another game," Green said. "We live another day and now, you know. we move on to Indy. This was our goal coming in. We said, 'If we're in this thing, we want to try and go win a championship.' We have got a big one on Monday and we got to try to go 1-0 two more times, but right now, I have a ton of confidence in this team and I think they have a ton of confidence in themselves right now where we can win in different ways."

Genesis Bryant was critical to the Illini's quarterfinal win against the Golden Hurricane (25-10) with the senior guard resembling her usual self after an uncharacteristic 1-for-9 shooting performance on Sunday in the second-round win against Stony Brook.

Bryant, instead, delivered a game-high 19 points, finishing 8 of 15 from the floor, while Makira Cook added 17 points, 13 of which came in the second half, and Kendall Bostic provided a double-double after producing 10 points and pulling down 16 rebounds.

"That's the really good thing about me and Gen, it's like a 1-2 weapon," Cook said. "She really had to do a lot in the first half (with Cook in foul trouble), which is hard on a point guard. She's guarding the top of the key. She's running the offense. I'm just happy I could go in there and contribute in some type of way, but she did what she had to do in the first half."

Still, Illinois led for nearly 38 minutes against Tulsa, pulling ahead 18-9 at the end the first quarter. It was what the Illini did on the defensive end that was key to Thursday night's quarterfinal win.

The Golden Hurricane forced up 34 three-point attempts, making 11 of them, with Tulsa shooting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Illinois led by double digits for most of the second half, stretching its advantage to as many as 16 points late in the third quarter when Shay Bollin's layup with two minutes, 37 seconds left in the period saw the Illini surge to a 54-38 lead.

But the Golden Hurricane found somewhat of an offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter with Tulsa outscoring Illinois 20-15 in the final 10 minutes. Tulsa closed to within six points at 67-61 with 1:34 left in the game after Temira Poindexter scored a layup.

That's as close as the Golden Hurricane got, however, with Tulsa missing its final three attempts from the field.

The Illini shot 47.4 percent for the game to extend their season.

Penn State and Villanova will join Illinois and Washington State in the WBIT semifinals after the Nittany Lions held on for a 92-87 victory against Mississippi State in State College, Pa., and Villanova topped Big 5 Philadelphia-area rival Saint Joseph's 67-59. Both Penn State and Villanova were No. 1 seeds in the 32-team bracket.

"I credit our players," Green said. "They made plays when we had to. It wasn't pretty at all times and against a really, really good Tulsa team that we knew they were going to make a run and come back strong in that second half. And they did, but we had enough of a lead we could withstand some of that.

"The first half was huge. We guarded the three-point line really, really well in the first half and in the (second) half they got hot there. ... They are just so dangerous so even when you're up 18, 15, 10 you do not feel like that's a lead because of how well they shoot it."