The No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball team travels to Illinois to take on the surprising No. 21 team Illini

The No. 6 women’s basketball team from Indiana, who has gone on a four-game winning streak since losing only this season, meets No. 21 Illinois at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Urbana-Champaign. The game is the second game between the teams this season after Indiana won the first matchup in Bloomington 65-61.

Prior to the first game against the Hoosiers, the Illini had shown they were better in their preseason games than last season, but had only played a single game against a Power Conference opponent up to that point. As a result, it was difficult to gauge just how much Illinois had improved during the offseason.

Now that college basketball is in full conference play, however, the Illini have proven the surprise of the Big Ten women’s basketball season so far, with freshman head coach Shauna Green helping to orchestrate an incredible turnaround.

Last season, the Illini recorded a 7-20 aggregate win and finished in the bottom two places in the conference standings for the fifth straight season. With a 15-3 record so far this season and 5-2 in Big Ten games, Illinois already has more overall and conference wins than any single season since 2014-15. Due to their improvement, the Illini are currently ranked 21st after receiving their first AP poll since 2000.

After the Hoosiers’ win over the Illini on December 4, Indiana head coach Teri Moren commended the work Green has done with her team in just a short span of time.

“Hats off to Illinois, this isn’t old Illinois. Shauna and her staff make these kids play hard, play well, play disciplined — by far the best defensive team we’ve faced. They have a lot of interesting pieces, they can shoot, they’re definitely athletic, they attack, they play aggressively,” said Moren. “Shauna is a great addition to this league and will only make it more difficult than it is.”

Aside from the loss to Indiana, Illinois’ only missteps this season were a six-point loss away to No. 2 Ohio State and a three-point loss to the University of Delaware in a tournament earlier in the season.

At home, Illinois hold a 9-0 unbeaten record, with their best win of the season coming on New Year’s Day against No. 10 Iowa. The Illini defeated the preseason conference favorites 90-86, earning their first ranked home win since the 2014-15 season.

In the first matchup against the Hoosiers — when Indiana was still without grad guard Grace Berger through injury — the Illini nearly ended the excitement thanks to victory in the battle for the boards and finished the game with a plus-seven rebound advantage. Overall, Illinois have won games this season thanks to their ability to control the glass — they have by far the best rebound margin in the conference at over plus 10 per game.

Notably, junior forward Kendall Bostic leads the Big Ten in individual rebounds, averaging over 10 per game and 14 at Bloomington earlier this year. In addition to the recovery, Illinois’ upset bid was largely spearheaded by junior guard Makira Cook. Cook is Illinois’ top scorer averaging 18.3 points per game but posted a career-high 33 against Indiana and had several last-minute chances to equalize or take the lead.

“Number three lit it on the track and we knew she was the hot hand so they would go to her,” senior forward Mackenzie Holmes said. “So I was just trying to be consistent, stay down, just get a hand in her face and hope for the best.”

Holmes and the Hoosiers got the stops and the win the first time around but need to do a better job rebounding and slowing Cook to secure the win of the season.

The second matchup between the Hoosiers and Illini begins Wednesday at 8 p.m. at State Farm Center and can be viewed on BTN+.

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.

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