Illinois Basketball: 5 takeaways from the Illini win over Long Island

Illinois' Kendall Bostic, left, looks to rebound the ball as Michigan State's Tamara Farquhar defends during the first quarter on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.211209 Msu Ill W Bball 039a
Illinois' Kendall Bostic, left, looks to rebound the ball as Michigan State's Tamara Farquhar defends during the first quarter on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.211209 Msu Ill W Bball 039a /

The women’s Illinois basketball team started off on the right foot Wednesday night, as they took down Long Island University.

Coming off a forgettable past decade, the Illini are looking for a fresh start under new head coach, Shauna Green. Against the Sharks, Green’s early teachings shined bright, as Illinois would take a quick 18-9 first quarter lead and never look back.

A great defensive performance aided a tremendous spark from some of the newcomers on the team. By the final whistle, the Illini had put Long Island on ice with a 75-40 victory.

Here are five observations from the Illinois basketball win over Long Island.

1. Defense was sensational

Coming into the 2022-23 campaign, Illinois’ defense was known to be pretty bad. Last year alone, there were over 300 women’s college basketball teams, and the Illini ranked in the bottom 15 in team defense. We were giving up 74.4 points per game.

On Wednesday night, the Illini defense look greatly improved. Green brought her great defensive teachings that had Dayton giving up just 54.7 points per game last season, which ranked No. 16 in the country.

Illinois only gave up 40 points against Long Island, and it was a team effort. The Illini finished with nine steals, and the Sharks only shot 23.7% from the field and 13% from three-point range. I was extremely impressed with Adalia McKenzie’s ability to stay in front of her defender and to keep her shoulders square. Makira Cook had amazingly quick hands and will be a lockdown defender for the Illini. Long Island also struggled with Illinois’ tremendous size on the court.

2. Makira Cook is electric

There was a lot to love about Illinois’ win over Long Island on Wednesday night. I would argue that my biggest observation was how great the addition of Makira Cook will be for the Illini.

Cook is an absolute superstar. She bought so much energy to the Illinois basketball team. She would end up finishing with 14 points, four rebounds, two steals, and one assist while shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range.

Those stats are all fine and great, but I think there are a lot of intangibles that Cook brings to the court. Illinois is a fast-paced team now. We run the court well. This style of play helps put points on the board. The energy that Cook brings rubs off on her teammates. I am not exaggerating when I say, look for Cook to be a first-team All-Big Ten player this season.

3. Illinois has some serious size

This season is going to be fun to watch. Not only does Illinois have some electric talent at the guard positions, but we also have some serious size.

6-foot-2 Kendall Bostic was always going to be a main staple for this Illini this season. She averaged 11.4 rebounds per game last season, which led the Big Ten. Her performance against Long Island was special, as she would go for 16 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting from the field.

Illinois was able to add a couple of towers to go alongside Bostic this season. I was extremely impressed with Brynn Shoup-Hill, who stands at 6-foot-3. She was a dominant force on the inside with eight rebounds and three blocks. I also think she is going to be able to stretch the floor for the Illini. Shoup-Hill can clearly step back and hit three-point shots, despite her going 0-of-3 on the night. She has a beautiful stroke from deep.

When the game was getting out of hand, Green then put in Geovana Lopes and Aiche Ndour, who is 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-6, respectively. They both had solid games, but I am really curious to see what these two can do down the road. Ndour’s size is eye-popping, and if she can develop her shot and touch a little more, she is going to be unstoppable.

4. This team likes the three-point shot

Last season, Illinois lacked a sense of zesty with the program. We were giving up a ton of points, and we weren’t taking or making shots from three-point range.

In the Long Island game, the Illini proved they are going to be a much more willing three-point shooting team for the 2022-23 campaign. Green is clearly coaching this team to shoot more from deep, and I think this style is going to pay off down the road.

Green inherited an Illini team that shot 18.3 three-pointers last season, which ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten. Our three-point shooting percentage, 31.8%, also ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten. This was not a good three-point shooting team.

On Wednesday night, Illinois would end up shooting 21 three-point shots and made them at a clip of 23.8%. While the make rate isn’t great, I think there is definitely an effort to improve as a team at this aspect of the game.

I was really impressed with how Cook shot the ball. As previously mentioned, she is going to be a superstar for this team. Fellow newcomer Genesis Bryant also made it rain from deep going 3-of-5 on the night from three-point range. Look for Illinois to be a dangerous team from three-point range. I think this is going to be a dangerous program in 2022-23.

5. Great start to what could be a special run

Listen, I realize this is just Long Island and we shouldn’t get too excited. But what I saw on the court on Wednesday night was something I haven’t seen out of a women’s Illinois basketball team in quite some time.

I think we are solid at just about every position on the floor. Cook brings stability to the backcourt. Bostic is a monster on the glass in the paint. Shoup-Hill is going to be our Coleman Hawkins. She is a player who can do work in the paint but also step out and shoot from deep.

The work Green put in this offseason to improve Illinois is already bearing fruit. Her ability to land transfers and retain the class of 2022 is going to prove huge for the program. I truly believe this is the start of something pretty big in Champaign.

Next. 5 observations from the Illini win over Eastern Illinois. dark