Illinois’ defense would prove to be a factor throughout the night, in fact, as the visitors blocked 12 shots, which tied a Missouri State opponent record for blocks in a single game, and limited the Lady Bears to a 19-of-61 shooting performance from the field.
Karisma Penn and Lacey Simpson led an Illini attack that featured four double-figure scorers with 17 points apiece, and senior All-America candidate Jenna Smith pulled down 17 rebounds and chipped in 11 points for UI.
Simpson helped the visitors to an early 9-4 lead, accounting for five of her 11 first-half points in the first four minutes of the contest. Her three-pointer with just over 16 minutes to go capped a 9-2 run for UI, after Lacey Boshe had converted an 18-foot jumper on the Lady Bears’ first possession of the game.
MSU responded behind the shooting of Jaleshia Roberson, who drained the first of her two triples with 13:37 left on the clock to pull the Lady Bears to within 11-9. Casey Garrison added a pair of buckets over the ensuing four minutes to hand MSU a 16-15 edge.
After an Aly Stock field goal at the 5:42 mark drew Missouri State to within two points once again, the UI defense would go to work, forcing three turnovers while shutting out the Lady Bears from the field to give its offense time to score six of the final eight points of the period.
It was more of the same at the onset of the second stanza, as Illinois broke from intermission by scoring the first eight points before a Christiana Shorter free throw with 16:51 to play ended MSU’s dry spell. Smith responded by drilling a three on UI’s next possession to stake the Illini to a 40-24 lead, their largest of the night.
Missouri State’s offense would come alive mid-way through the half, scoring six straight points to momentarily cut the UI lead to 46-40 on a Boshe baseline jumper with 8:33 remaining on the clock.
Illinois would answer with 12 straight points of its own to push its lead back to 18 with just over four minutes to go.
MSU, which would get no closer than 11 the rest of the way, was led by Roberson’s 14 points, while Shorter turned in her fifth double-double in the last six games with a 12-point, 10-rebound performance.
The Illini finished the night 23-of-50 (.460) from the field and 17-of-20 (.850) from the charity stripe.
Garrison, who tallied 10 points in the loss for MSU, concluded her sophomore year with 658 points, which is good for the fifth-highest total in school history. Additionally, her career total of 1,134 points puts her 16th all-time at Missouri State through just 63 career games.
With the loss Missouri State heads to the offseason after completing its turnaround season with a 22-11 mark, its best since going 25-8 in 2004-05. Illinois, on the other hand, advances to the quarterfinal round of the WNIT, where it will take on Illinois State Sunday.