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Illini women unable to keep pace with Clark, Hawkeyes

Feb. 26—IOWA CITY, Iowa. — The Illinois women's basketball team did nothing on Sunday afternoon to change the fact second-year coach Shauna Green is happy with the state of her team.

That the Illini are playing well at the right time of the season had Green feeling optimistic. A 101-85 loss to No. 4 Iowa in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,998 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena wasn't going to change Green's mind.

Not with the Hawkeyes, led by Caitlin Clark, among the top contenders to cut down the nets as the national champions in early April in Cleveland after finishing as the national runner-up to LSU last season.

Illinois (13-13, 7-9 Big Ten) had won five of its last seven games before a loss to Iowa (24-4, 13-3) on Sunday. The Hawkeyes had 28 assists on 36 made field goals, with Clark delivering a triple-double of 24 points — albeit on 18 shooting attempts — to go with 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

"I hate to lose, obviously, but I feel good with some of the things that we did," Green said. "The main thing is our fight and our focus and we were locked in and continued to battle. Those are the things that you need to continue to do what we want to do the rest of the season. There's no worry or concern. We have to move on to the next opponent."

Makira Cook played a key role in helping the Illini at least stay within reach of Iowa throughout. Illinois fell behind by as many as 20 points in the first half, with the Hawkeyes taking a 42-22 lead midway through the second quarter after a Hannah Stuelke layup.

But Illinois' senior point guard stalled some of Iowa's momentum with two three-pointers in the second quarter, as Cook — who finished with a game-high 26 points — brought the Illini back within 50-34 at the halftime break.

A 16-point gap that ended up being the final margin, as well, after Illinois matched Iowa with 51 points apiece in the second half.

"She loves the bright lights and the moments like these," Green said of Cook. "Her and Caitlin were going back and forth, which is great for the game. She played extremely well. Just made some big-time shots for us.

"We made some runs. We showed some really good spurts against the zone to be able to create some shots. We fought. We battled against one of the best teams in the country. That's why they have the chance to win the whole thing this year. They have all the pieces and playing them on this floor it's extremely tough. It's why they don't lose here. It's a definite home-court advantage."

Iowa improved to 12-1 at Carver-Hawkeye this winter with Clark finding her groove somewhat in the second half with 15 points after shooting 2 for 9 in the opening 20 minutes.

What made Clark shined at on Sunday was her ability to facilitate for her teammates. The Hawkeyes had three other players in double figures with Stuelke, Molly Davis and Kate Martin combining for 50 points.

Illinois countered with all five starters scoring at least 10 points. Genesis Bryant complemented Cook with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Kendall Bostic posted a double-double of 10 points and 17 rebounds among the main Illini contributions.

Illinois plays its final regular-season road game against Michigan State (20-7, 10-6) with the Big Ten matchup set for 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.

"We just have to continue to learn from (Sunday's loss)," Green said. "We'll get better. We got two more games, really, really hard games. I love again that our five starters are in double figures. We need a little more production from our bench, but I'm proud of our guys. We came in. We knew we were going to get a really good shot from Iowa. We have to be able to regroup and get better and be ready to go against Michigan State."