Somehow, the -24-degree wind chill wasn’t the coldest thing in Evanston this Sunday afternoon.
A poor shooting performance from Northwestern was a big factor contributing to its blowout loss to Illinois. the Wildcats (7-10, 2-4 B1G) fell 93-52 to Illinois (7-8, 1-4 B1G). While the game remained close early, poor shooting from Northwestern (27% from the field) and efficient offense from Illinois (33% from three, seven turnovers) blew the game open in the second quarter, and little could be done to recover things from that point on.
Despite Northwestern’s persistent offensive struggles, graduate transfer guard Maggie Pina was a bright spot: her 11 points led all scorers on the home side, and marked her season-high. The Fighting Illini, by contrast, managed to get four players in double-figures. Makira Cook and Camille Hobby led the way for them, with 19 and 18 points, respectively, on a combined 15-of-21 mark from the field.
To open the game, both teams started a little slowly, trading baskets to make it a 4-4 game over three-and-a-half minutes in. But, an and-one layup by Illinois forward Adalia McKenzie was the catalyst for an early 7-0 Illinois run, giving the Fighting Illini an 11-4 lead just over six minutes into the first quarter.
Pina made an immediate offensive impact off of the bench, though, getting open off of a screen to hit a three, and helping the ‘Cats score another seven points before the quarter’s end. Illinois’ offense showed no sign of slowing down after the media timeout either, though, as it scored on four straight possessions coming out of the timeout and extended the lead to 20-11. Hobby dominated at all three levels, scoring 11 points in the first period on 5-of-6 shooting.
Heading into the second frame, things got sloppy on the defensive end for the Wildcats, as they gave up an open three followed by a transition layup on back-to-back possessions. Offensively, the Wildcats continued to struggle, shooting just 1-of-11 from the field and allowing Illinois’ lead to balloon to 20 points before calling a timeout at the 6:18 mark.
A timeout from acting head coach Tangela Smith did little to help stop the bleeding: Illinois continued to look like the better team post-break as it extended its lead to more than 20 points. The game began to spin out of control because of a 16-2 Illini run over a six-minute period in which the Wildcats experienced a five-minute scoring drought. There was little to be proud of for Northwestern heading into halftime, as it saw itself down 45-21.
Coming out of halftime, a bleak first half seemed to only spill over into the second frame. Four minutes into the third quarter, the Wildcats managed to shoot just 1-of-7 from the field. For much of the rest of the quarter, Illinois’ lead remained relatively stagnant, growing from 29 to 31.
An ice-cold Northwestern offense never really thawed out either, as they went through yet another field goal drought, unable to put one in the basket in the final three minutes of the quarter. While the ‘Cats were able to spark a 6-0 run and force Illinois to shoot 1-of-9 over a stretch, the Illini slammed the door shut with an and-one from Hobby with 4.8 seconds left.
Wrapping things up in the fourth quarter, it was much of the same. Hot shooting was infectious for the Illinois side, as it went 9-of-16 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe to extend their 30-point lead to more than 40, nearly doubling up on the Wildcats scoring-wise. Despite a day filled with success for Illinois, the injury bug still made its way to a pair of seniors in Jada Peebles and Aicha Ndour.
The Wildcats return to the hardwood this coming Wednesday, Jan. 17, as they visit East Lansing to face Michigan State at 5:30 p.m. CT.