WBIT quarterfinals: 'We have our work cut out for us'

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Beat writer Joe Vozzelli looks ahead to Thursday's action with eight teams vying for a chance to reach Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the semifinal round

Who to watch

Delanie Crawford, Tulsa. The 5-foot-11 junior guard has combined with forward Temira Poindexter to account for 56 percent of the Golden Hurricane's points. But Crawford has not just averaged 19.1 points but a team-best 5.8 rebounds and team-high 2.7 assists while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Adalia McKenzie has stolen the show for the Illini through their first two WBIT games, but the 5-6 Cook — the senior guard announced before the tournament started she'll be returning for another season at Illinois next winter, her fifth at the college level — has put up 19.7 points and 5.3 assists during the last eight games.

Lucy Olsen, Villanova. Who's third nationally behind Iowa's Caitlin Clark and Southern California's JuJu Watkins in scoring? That would be Olsen, the 5-9 junior who's taken over for Maddy Siegrist (now in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings) as the next big scorer for the Wildcats, evidenced by Olsen's 23.6 points this season on 44.5 percent shooting.

Jessika Carter, Mississippi State. The 6-5 center gives the Bulldogs a presence in the post, with the graduate student from Waverly Hall, Ga. — now in her sixth season of college — tallying nearly a double-double for Sam Purcell's Mississippi State team with 14.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Ashley Owusu, Penn State. The Woodbridge, Va., native started her career at Maryland before going to Virginia Tech and then winding back in the Big Ten for the 2023-24 season. She's been a big part of a turnaround season for Carolyn Kieger's program, with the 6-0 guard starring in the second half of the year for the Nittany Lions.

Who's left

Illinois is one of five teams in the quarterfinals from high-major conferences, joining the likes of Villanova (Big East), Washington State (Pac-12), Mississippi State (SEC) and Penn State (Big Ten). An interesting possibility would be that the Illini could face Mississippi State in the WBIT championship game on April 3 after Shauna Green and Co. lost a First Four game at the NCAA tournament to the Bulldogs last March in South Bend, Ind. A potential team outside of the high majors to pay close attention to is Toledo. The Rockets have a tough draw, though, with a 2,000 mile trip to Pullman, Wash., to play Washington State on Thursday night .

Who wins

Illinois 73, Tulsa 68. The Illini extend their season into April with a road win, as Makira Cook and Adalia McKenzie continue what has been a strong tournament for the backcourt duo.

Washington State 79, Toledo 74. The Cougars won their first two WBIT games by an average margin of 23 points. That was against Lamar and Santa Clara. This one's closer but home-court advantage (or rather not having to travel advantage) is enough.

Villanova 74, Saint Joseph's 62. The Hawks have struggled to score in their opening two games. The Wildcats will get revenge after an early December loss to their Big 5 rivals.

Mississippi State 70, Penn State 65. The Bulldogs have been about as impressive as any team in this tournament with a 37-point win against Georgia Tech and a nine-point win against TCU. Mississippi State leaves Happy Valley with a win.

What was said

"They're a really good team. They shot a lot of three-pointers. They're averaging nine makes a game. They play really, really fast in transition and so another thing is it's hard to match up with them because they pretty much play a five out and they're cutting and they try to spread you. ... They're really, really good at home, too. They have only lost one game on their home court (15-1 record), so we have our work cut out for us." — Illinois coach Shauna Green on Tulsa, her team's quarterfinal opponent