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Makira Cook’s strong 2nd half leads Illinois past Villanova 71-57 for inaugural WBIT championship

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Makira Cook rebounded from first-half foul trouble by scoring 22 of her 27 points in the second half and Kendall Bostic had 15 points and 15 rebounds, leading fourth-seeded Illinois past top-seeded Villanova 71-57 on Wednesday night to win the first Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament championship.

Genesis Bryant added 17 points for the Fighting Illini (19-15), who won the first postseason tourney title in program history. They celebrated in front of a large, loud orange-clad crowd that made the two-hour drive from the school’s campus and gave Illinois a distinct home-court advantage inside Indianapolis’ historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Cook also had five assists, five 3-pointers and was selected the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She had 20 points and five assists in Tuesday’s semifinal victory over Washington State and averaged 21.0 points during the five-game title run.

Lucy Olsen finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Wildcats (22-13). Bella Runyan had 11 points as Villanova made its deepest tourney run since reaching the 1982 AIAW Final Four.

Illinois started fast but frittered away the lead when Cook left with her second foul early in the second quarter. The Wildcats took advantage by building a 32-29 halftime lead.

Everything changed when Cook returned for the second half.

After Olsen opened the third quarter with a putback, Cook’s back-to-back 3s gave Illinois the lead and started a 16-2 run Cook capped with yet another 3. When it ended, the Illini led 45-34.

The Wildcats cut the deficit to 50-44 at the end of three but couldn’t get any closer as the Illini pulled away over the final 10 minutes.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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