Illinois State clinches ticket to NCAA Tournament with 50-48 win over UNI

MOLINE, Ill. – The Illinois State women’s basketball team (19-13, 12-6 MVC) clinched their ticket to the NCAA tournament this afternoon, beating UNI (22-10, 13-5 MVC), 50-48, at TaxSlayer Center in the title game for the Missouri Valley Conference Championship.

This is the first time since 2008 that the ISU has participated in the NCAA Tournament and the sixth overall. The Redbirds will learn their playoff fate on Sunday’s NCAA Draft show on March 13 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Fifth year Juliann Redmond led all scorers with 21 points, passing 8 of 19 from the floor. Second year in red shirt Maya Wang finished just two off his career high in points, finishing with 15 points and four assists. Second year Kate Bullman had a game-high nine rebounds, paired with four points.

UNI was led by senior Karli Rucker who had 16 points.

HOW DID IT HAPPEN
The Redbirds took a 10-2 lead with four points apiece from Juliann Redmond and Maya Wang while the Panthers only shot 1 of 9 in the first 4:42 of the game. UNI responded in kind, responding with a 9-2 push with 4 of 8 shots to cut Redbird’s lead to 12-11. The ISU was just 1 in 8 during UNI’s push.

UNI Grace Boffeli committed her second foul with 9:12 remaining in the half and DeAnna Wilson took his second with 7:23 to go. UNI continued the streak they started in the first quarter, to take a 23-14 lead on two Kayba Laube free throws with 3:07 remaining. Redmond scored five straight points to close the gap to 27-22 at halftime.

Wilson and Boffeli celebrated their return to the field with the first two baskets of the second half. The Redbirds shot 4-of-6 to start the half and took a 30-29 lead with 5:23 to go, but Kam Finley put the Panthers back in front with a three-pointer. Wong scored six points in the final five minutes to give ISU a 36-35 lead with 1:34 to go, but Karli Rucker’s two free throws finished the scoring and put UNI back in the lead.

Rucker scored on two field goals and Emerson Green hit a three-pointer as UNI started the fourth quarter with a 7-2 push that forced a Redbird timeout with 8:21 left and UNI ahead 44- 38. UNI led 48-42 at 5:12, but the Redbirds scored the next eight points, taking a 49-48 lead on a Redmond bucket with 1:52 to go. Wilson made a free throw with 0:08 left and a final jumper from Finley failed.

IN THE BOX SCORE

  • Illinois State is 26-26 all-time in the Valley Tournament, including five titles (1982, 1987, 2005, 2008, and 2022).
  • It was the third lowest scoring league game in Valley history (Evansville 47, Creighton 45 in 2009 and Creighton 53, Drake 38 in 2012).
  • ISU was only the fourth No. 4 seed to reach the title match. All four won.
  • Redmond has 68 points in the tournament, tied for 6th in Valley tournament history with Drake’s Lizzy Wendell in 2014. His 29 field goals made in the tournament are tied for No. 4 in the tournament. story of the valley tournament with Christy Neneman of Creighton in 2002.
  • Redmond and Wilson were named to the MVC All-Tournament Team, with Redmond selected as the MVP. Mary Crompton received the Elite 17 award, given to the player with the highest GPA participating in a conference championship.

QUOTES FROM HEAD COACH KRISTEN GILLESPIE

On the championship: “Yesterday I was sitting here and saying that the opportunity to play for a chance to go to the NCAA tournament is what coaches dream of. It’s not just cutting a net – it’s is everything to these 14 young women who gave their all to this program and they believed in me and my team when we weren’t good and now their dreams are coming true because of what we built and what we continue to build here. It’s indescribable.

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