The ‘Cats will not be the queens of Illinois for the 2023-24 season.
Northwestern (8-15, 3-9 B1G) was defeated by Illinois (11-11, 5-7 B1G) 82-71 in Champaign. The ‘Cats did not lead for a second of the game and trailed by as many as 20 points in the matchup.
Grad transfer Maggie Pina led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 15 points and splashing three shots from beyond the arc. Paige Mott chipped in with 13 points and nine rebounds. For the Illini, Adalia McKenzie and Makira Cook combined for 39 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the field.
Northwestern opened the game with a turnover, leading to an easy layup for Illinois. Walsh answered with a pair of free throws, and Caroline Lau poked the ball away on the next possession, yet the ‘Cats did not finish on the offensive end. After two straight misses by Mott, the Illini went on a 5-0 run, pushing the score to 7-2. Halfway through the first quarter, Melannie Daley checked into the game and sank a floater, but the Illini held a 11-6 lead at the media timeout.
Out of the timeout, Illinois pushed its lead to 15-6, aided by the Wildcats’ poor shooting, but two straight buckets by NU cut its deficit to five with two minutes to play. Daley had a chance to put another dent into the Illinois lead, as she poked one away and tiptoed the sideline to keep it in bounds. However, Walsh was whistled for an offensive foul. The Illini responded with the first three of the game, but Walsh backed her way inside and hit a hook shot. That kept Illinois's lead at 20-12 after one quarter.
Starting the second quarter, Pina found Mott underneath for an easy layup, but a three-point play by McKenzie and a long two by Camille Hobby pushed the Illini lead back to double digits. Both teams went cold in the middle of the quarter, but the offense picked up when Pina drilled a deep three to cut the game to eight.
The Illini answered right back, though. They forced a turnover and scored at the rim to send its edge right back to 10, which it held at the media timeout with under five minutes to play in the half.
Soon after, Daley picked up her third foul of the game, so she took a seat. On the floor, Illinois took a commanding 37-23 lead with 90 seconds left in the half. The run continued, as the Fighting Illini lead grew to 18 before Pina banked in a deep three as the half ended. Nevertheless, the Wildcats trailed Illinois 41-26.
Out of the break, Northwestern tried to will itself back into the game, bringing the game all the way to a 49-40 deficit. The Wildcats opened the half shooting 6-of-10 from the field while the Illini only had two field goals midway through the quarter. Pina connected on her third triple to make it a two-possession game; however, Illinois took advantage of the ‘Cats’ foul trouble and expanded its advantage all the way to 59-44 with less than 90 seconds to go in the third quarter. By the time the final buzzer sounded for the quarter, Illinois held a sizable 63-44 lead.
By the time the fourth quarter was in full swing, it was too late for any comeback from the ‘Cats. NU tried to cut the lead throughout the fourth quarter and managed to outscore the Illini in the final period thanks to seven points from Hailey Weaver, but Illinois completed its 82-71 victory without much trouble.
Northwestern returns to action next Wednesday, taking on Purdue at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.