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Hot start not enough as Redbirds fall short of Hawkeyes in NCAA Tournament

Written by on March 18, 2022

IOWA CITY, IA. – In their first appearance at the big dance since 2008, the Illinois State Women’s basketball team fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament to the two-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes, 98-58.

“One game does not define them. What defines this group and what their legacy is is that they are Missouri Valley Champions. They got Illinois State back on the map. Back where it should be. We were NCAA tournament participants.” ISU head coach Kristen Gillespie said.

It was a picture-perfect start for the Redbirds as they started things off with a 7-2 run. ISU guard and Iowa City native Mary Crompton was on fire, hitting her first two shots to give the redbirds five of their first seven points.

It wasn’t long before the Hawkeyes found their stroke from behind the arc, hitting back-to-back threes to bring them back within two points of the Redbirds.

The fast paced play of the Hawkeyes started to show as Forward McKenna Warnock knotted things up at 12 with a transition layup.

With a little over three minutes to go the Redbirds offense began to struggle as the Hawkeyes closed the paint, forcing the Redbirds to shoot the three unsuccessfully.

The Hawkeyes exploded for nine points in two minutes to close out the first quarter, giving them a 21 to 15 lead.

“We knew we had a tall task at hand. They had a few more weapons than we did, but you have to give them credit. It’s going to be fun to see how far they can go.” Gillespie said.

The fast paced play continued in the second quarter as both teams traded blows. The Hawkeyes had an answer every time the Redbirds found any sort of rhythm offensively.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark showed why she was named a first team AP All-American as she had two big time steals that led to fast break opportunities, giving the Hawkeyes a 31-22 advantage midway through the second quarter.

The Hawkeyes showed why they are so dangerous as forward Monika Czinano put them up 39-27 with a tough and one post move.

The homefield advantage showed as Carver-Hawkeye Arena roared after a steal with 30 seconds to go gave the Hawkeyes a 43-29 advantage to close out the half.

“We beat ourselves with the turnovers. They made plays out of our turnovers. It was just our offense that got them the lead.” Juju Redmond said.

Mary Crompton led the way for the Redbirds in the first, going 4-6 from the field with 11 points. On the other side of things was Caitlyn Clark, leading both teams with 15 points in the first half.

Czinano got the scoring started in the second half as she was able to draw the and one off Juju Redmond. This gave Redmond her third foul, putting her in foul trouble early in the third quarter.

Back to back threes by the Hawkeyes extended their lead to 52 to 29, forcing ISU to take their second timeout with 7:20 left in the third quarter.

The paint was completely shut down offensively for the Redbirds as the Hawkeye defense forced them to continue to force threes. The threes were not dropping as the Redbirds had only four points through the first five minutes of the second half.

“We had great shots, they just didn’t go in. It was just a really off night.” Gillespie said. “I gotta give our kids credit. They did exactly what we asked.”

Juju Redmond started to heat up for the Redbirds, scoring eight straight points for the Redbirds to bring the score to 62-41.

The Hawkeyes finished the third quarter strong as Addison O’Grady hit a buzzer beater to end the quarter, extending the lead to 74-47 going into the final quarter of play.

“Going into the last huddle I told them lets play as hard as we can for the last 10 minutes no matter what the score is.” Redmond said. “We just left it all out there.”

The fourth quarter started slowing for the Redbirds found themselves down 33 with eight minutes left in the game. Bad ball movement by the Redbirds led to offense for the Hawkeyes as a hook shot by Monika Czinano forced ISU to take another timeout with 7:54 in the fourth.

Back to back threes by Caitlyn Clark and Kylie Fuererback put the cherry on the top with four minutes left as the Hawkeyes took a commanding 88-50 lead.

The Redbirds fell 98 to 58 as the Hawkeyes advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to take on the Creighton Blue Jays on Sunday.

“We had a chance to go toe to toe with one of the top five or six teams in the country.” Gillespie said. “I loved the way our kids compete. Our kids just don’t quit, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

In her final game as a Redbird, Juju Redmond led the way for ISU as she had 25 points. For the Hawkeyes, Caitlyn Clark led the game with 27 points and 10 assists to send her team to the next round.

“Juju believes she belongs on the stage, and she does. What Juju has done during her three years at Illinois State is spectacular.” Coach Gillespie on Juju Redmond’s time at Illinois State. “If you know Juju it’s not about basketball, that’s just the person she is.”

The Redbird season ends in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but that shouldn’t overshadow the special season the Redbirds had.

“My goal is to have Illinois State in the NCAA tournament every year. That’s what I was hired to do and that’s what our staff has worked tirelessly over the last five years for.” Gillespie said.