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History! Illini win WBIT championship

Apr. 3—INDIANAPOLIS — The Illinois women's basketball team made history on Wednesday night.

Playing in the program's first postseason championship game, the Illini ran away from Villanova and defeated the Wildcats 71-57 in the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament title game.

Makira Cook scored a game-high 27 points and made 5 of 6 from three-point range, Genesis Bryant added 17 points and Kendall Bostic supplied one of her patented double-doubles by producing 15 points and 15 rebounds.

The Illini (19-15) trailed 32-29 at halftime, but outplayed the Wildcats (22-13) in the second half and took a 50-44 lead into the third quarter that quickly increased to double digits.

"I just tried to do what I could the best that I can," Cook said in a TV interview. "This is what we came here to do."

The run to a WBIT title came after Illinois lost its only game at the Big Ten tournament, falling to Maryland in the second round on March 7. Illinois coach Shauna Green wasn't sure after the loss to the Terrapins almost a month ago if Illinois would play in a postseason event.

But they opted to, and then went on to beat Missouri State, Stony Brook, Tulsa and Washington State before handling Villanova on Wednesday night.

"I'm just so proud of these guys," Green said in a TV interview after the game. "They're so resilient. The thing we've learned the most through this run is how to respond. We want to be in the NCAA tournament, obviously, but since we're here, we wanted to win it."

Makira Cook has made all the difference in the second half. The senior guard now has 25 points. Her shooting from beyond the arc has been the star with five made three-pointers on six attempts.

There's potentially 10 minutes left in the Illini's season. And a possible WBIT championship for Shauna Green and Co. Illinois outscored the Wildcats 21-12 in the third quarter to bounce back from a halftime deficit.

The Illini are shooting 45.5 percent for the game with Makira Cook leading them with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

Genesis Bryant isn't far behind with 15 points, while Kendall Bostic has a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Makira Cook now up to 16 points, going 4 of 4 from beyond the arc. Illinois has punched back after a halftime deficit, outscoring the Wildcats 16-5 so far in the quarter.

Just like that Illinois is back in the lead. Makira Cook has been the difference maker tonight. The Illini have outscored Villanova 11-2 in the third quarter.

Villanova closed first half on 13-3 run, benefiting from Makira Cook sitting out with two fouls. It will take a comeback for the Illini to come away with the first-ever WBIT title.

Illinois shot 27.3 percent in the second quarter.

Genesis Bryant led the way in the opening half with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Kendall Bostic had 10 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) to go with pulling down eight rebounds.

The Wildcats are on an 11-0 run after some big three-pointers from Maddie Burke. It's all happened with Makira Cook on the bench after she was called for a charge for her second foul. Illini coach Shauna Green calls timeout.

Another day the office for Kendall Bostic, who is well on her way to a double-double with 8 points and six rebounds. Bostic also reached 1,000 career points early in the first quarter with the 6-foot-2 senior forward from nearby Kokomo, Ind.

The Illini shot 45 percent in first quarter after a slow opening minutes.

Makira Cook has found her shooting touch after an early airball. The senior guard has now reeled off five straight points. Cook has five, with Genesis Bryant leading the Illini with seven points. Adalia McKenzie has drawn the early assignment of guarding Lucy Olsen, the Wildcats' top player.

A lot of orange in the stands at Hinkle with a big roar coming from crowd as Illinois walked out onto the floor about 25 minutes before tipoff for pregame shooutaround.

The Illini are sticking to their usual starting five of Makira Cook, Genesis Bryant and Adalia McKenzie in the backcourt and Kendall Bostic and Camille Hobby in the frontcourt.

Cook and McKenzie have been the catalysts for Illinois during its WBIT run with Cook averaging 19.5 points in four WBIT games and McKenzie at 18.3 ppg.

The key to tonight's game is the pace of it. The Illini want to score in the 70s, while the Wildcats have been stingy on the defensive end, allowing fewer than 60 points in all four of their WBIT wins.

***

INDIANAPOLIS — Welcome to Hinkle Fieldhouse.

In three hours, the first Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament champion will be crowned. Illinois has arrived at this historic building after a turbulent second season with Shauna Green as coach.

Expectations were high when the 2023-24 season opened nearly five months ago with the Illini fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance and returning basically their entire team. But through injuries, inconsistencies and the like Illinois found itself under .500 when the 32-team bracket for the inaugural WBIT was announced on March 17.

All Illinois has done since? Keep winning. A season-best four-game win streak has the Illini (18-15) on the verge of the program's first-ever postseason tournament title with Villanova (22-12) looking to spoil that chance when the two teams meet in the WBIT title game at 6 tonight.

Follow along for updates throughout the night with beat writer Joe Vozzelli and Photo Editor Robin Scholz on the scene at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Also WDWS will have coverage from the opening tip through the final buzzer with Mike Koon on the call.

Read some of our pregame coverage here ...

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