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Wilson, ‘Birds Soar Past Cougars in WNIT Win

Written by on March 25, 2024

Image courtesy of Redbird Athletics

NORMAL, Ill – This weekend, Bloomington-Normal was no exception from a world full of passionate postseason collegiate basketball.

The Illinois State University women’s basketball team, riding a streak of four straight postseason appearances and a first round bye, hosted Charleston for a Sunday second round battle in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament – and came up victorious in front of their home crowd.

The 74-67 Redbird win was crafted by a crew of veterans all fighting to continue what could be their final Redbird season. The Cougars, led by veteran guard Jenna Annecchiarico’s 26 points, kept the game close throughout and even came back to equalize at 60-all late in the second half. The Redbirds never gave in, making up for turnovers with well-executed offensive dominance.

“This is exciting.” ISU Head Coach Kristen Gillespie said after the win, “going into this game, I told the team that we are one of 75 teams still playing. It is a privilege to still be playing in late March…I love the heart of this team.”

Caroline Waite shot well from three-point land for 14 points, and Maya Wong pieced together 11 points through late-game heroics. However, it was DeAnna Wilson, the fifth-year returning Redbird, who shined bright in the big moment.

“That’s a fifth-year Senior that wants to extend her career another game,” Gillespie said, proudly glancing at Wilson. “That’s the signature Dee. Big buckets, creating that spark when we needed it.”

Willson, who had a team high 17 points, came up big in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for the Redbirds…producing steals and buckets on each side of the court. Following the game, Gillespie acknowledged Wilson’s legacy at Illinois State. Wilson, per usual, was all business; both as a selfless teammate and ongoing WNIT competitor.

“I’m just riding a high,” Willson said. “I’m not ready to leave the Redbirds yet.”

With the win, Wilson and the Redbirds will wait to see who and where they’ll play in the third round, as Southern Indiana and Wisconsin face off Monday night. To Gillespie, a more concrete plan would be nice but not essential to her team’s confidence.

“That’s the great thing; we get to have another day of prep.” Gillespie said, “at this point in the season, we are who we are…our team understands our expectations, our standards.”

This story will be updated with third round WNIT details as they come out.