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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Stony Brook women’s basketball prepares for second-round showdown with Illinois

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team’s top players huddle during a timeout against Drexel on Sunday, March 17. The Seawolves will take on Illinois on Sunday in the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

After an opening-round win in the 2024 Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament (WBIT), the eighth-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team will look to punch its ticket to the quarterfinals.

The Seawolves (28-4, 16-2 CAA) will hit the road to face the fourth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini (15-15, 8-10 Big Ten) on Sunday at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

On a quest for redemption, Stony Brook will face Illinois for the first time in program history. To keep their season alive, the Seawolves will have to find a way past the Fighting Illini’s offense that ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 74.4 points per game.

The key to their offensive success has been in part due good ball security, as their 12.2 turnovers per game are the second-fewest in their conference. Illinois has also excelled inside the arc, ranking 10th in the nation on two-point field goals made per game with 22.7 on 50.0% shooting. The Fighting Illini’s efficiency from the charity stripe has been a big help, as they rank first in their league with an 80% free throw percentage.

Despite its efficiency from short and mid-range, Illinois has struggled shooting from deep, as it is third-worst in the Big Ten with a .323 three-point field goal percentage. The team only has two players who have connected on over 34% of their three-pointers on at least 30 attempts this season.

The offensive effort will be spearheaded by the 2023-24 All-Big Ten Second Team point guard Makira Cooks, who leads the team and is eighth in the conference with 16.0 points per game. She has not been the most efficient shooter on the team, as she owns a .383/.322/.868 shooting line. Cooks is not only a scorer but also a talented passer, as she ranks ninth in the conference with 4.2 assists per game.

Cooks is not the only one capable of wreaking havoc offensively, as shooting guard Genesis Bryant averages 14.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. Bryant — a 2023-24 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention — has been the Fighting Illini’s best shooter all year long, as she has shot 35.1% from three-point range on 5.6 attempts per game.

Their frontcourt has talent as well, as power forward Kendall Bostic has been a double-double machine for the team. Averaging 12.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, Bostic has been the most efficient player on the roster with a team-high .603 field goal percentage and is third in free throw percentage at .849. The 6-foot-2 forward, while a sturdy presence on the inside, can step out for a three here and there, shooting 35.3% on just 17 attempts. She was also given an honorable mention by the Big Ten.

Small forward Adalia McKenzie is Illinois’ only other double-digit scorer with 10.7 points per contest on 49.0% shooting from the field. She brings some playmaking juice to the team as well, as she averages 2.3 assists per game.

Center Camille Hobby rounds out the starting five for the Fighting Illini, as she has given the team 9.4 points per game on an efficient .535/.300/.833 triple slash.

Off the bench, point guard Gretchen Dolan — a 2023-24 Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection — power forward Shay Bollin and center Brynn Shoup-Hill will all see the floor. Dolan is averaging 4.7 points and an assist per game on .393/.271/.731 shooting splits. Bollin is a 6-foot-3 wing who is shooting 44.9% from the field and 36.7% from deep. Shoup-Hill is a 6-foot-3 big who likes to space the floor, as 38 of her 63 shots have come from beyond the arc.

The team will be missing small forward Jada Peebles, who was a three-point specialist when healthy. Of her 70 shots, 43 of them (61.4%) came from downtown. However, she made only 27.9% of them. Her 20.5 minutes per game rank sixth on the team, but she has not played since Jan. 14.

Stony Brook owns the fourth-best scoring defense in the CAA with 56.9 points allowed per game. The Seawolves have had all areas of the court covered well, as they boast both the fourthbest opponent’s field goal percentage (.346) and opponent’s three-point percentage defense (.251) in the nation.

For opposing teams, the first obstacle comes in the form of Stony Brook’s active and disruptive perimeter defense. Point guard Gigi Gonzalez — the 2023-24 CAA Player of the Year and 2023-24 All-CAA First Team honoree — has been at the point of attack, leading the team with 1.4 steals per game.

Fortunately for the Seawolves, there is little to no dropoff in their bench defense, as shooting guard Victoria Keenan and point guard Janay Brantley also chip in. Keenan is second on the team with 1.3 steals per game. As a 6-footer, Brantley wears many hats on the defensive end as either a point-of-attack defender, a roamer or a shot-blocker. Her peskiness in the paint has yielded her an average of 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.

Small forward Kelis Corley has also pitched in on the effort outside, as her active hands and long arms have helped her team keep its foes from spacing the floor.

If Illinois can get past Stony Brook on the perimeter, power forward Sherese Pittman and center Khari Clark will be ready to meet it at the rim. The pair of 2023-24 All-CAA Second Team selections have made it difficult for opponents to finish, as the Seawolves surrender the 12th-lowest percentage from two-point range (.391) in the country.

Clark and Pittman have been neck-and-neck all year in most metrics, as Clark is ninth in the CAA with 35 blocks and 10th with 1.1 per game. She is also third on the team with 1.3 steals per game. On their conference’s leaderboards, Pittman ranks 10th with 33 rejections and ninth with 1.1 per contest.

Stony Brook’s defensive multi-dimensionality has given teams fits all year long, as it is first in the league in rebounding with 42.5 per game. Pittman has been the team’s leading rebounder, as she is sixth in the CAA with 7.4 per game. Clark has been active on the glass as well with the eighth-most boards per contest (7.1) in the conference. Off the bench, power forward Shamarla King has been using every inch of her 6-foot frame to grab 6.1 boards per night.

The offense has been the Seawolves’ calling card when the defense struggles, as they are second in the CAA with 73.2 points per game on a league-leading .435 field goal percentage. They are also second in their conference with a .332 three-point shooting percentage and lead it with a .758 free throw percentage.

Stony Brook’s offense often starts and ends with Gigi Gonzalez, whose 16 points per game rank second in the CAA. Her playmaking prowess makes her especially dangerous, as she also places second with 4.8 assists per contest.

Right behind her are Pittman and Clark as they have taken turns leading the way for the offense throughout the year. Both bigs have struggled as of late, especially in the 2024 CAA women’s basketball tournament, as neither scored more than their regular-season average throughout the playoffs.

On the year, Pittman has averaged 12.7 points per game on 45.1% shooting from the field. Pittman also provides playmaking as a big, with 2.1 assists a game. Clark is the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.1 points per game and leads all qualified players in the CAA with a .575 field goal percentage.

Filling the sixth player role, Keenan has been a steady hand to rely on. She is the team’s fourth-leading scorer and leads the bench unit with 8.5 points per game. Keenan leads the CAA with a .410 three-point percentage. Starting ahead of her is shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez, who has averaged 8.2 points per game while shooting 40.3% from the field and 38.8% from three-point range.

Brantley gives the unit much-needed passing with 1.8 assists per game — the third most on the team. King has been useful in the pick-and-roll action and can score from all three levels, as her 6.9 points per contest come on a .465/.316/.717 shooting line.

The Fighting Illini’s defense will be a vulnerable spot for the Seawolves to attack all game long, as the unit ranks eighth in the Big Ten with 68.5 points allowed per game and ninth with a .423 field goal percentage against. The root of the issue has been their inability to protect the rim, despite having four rotational players over 6-foot. They have only forced 14.5 turnovers per game. However, they are strong on the perimeter, as Illinois’ opponents have only made 30.0% of their three-pointers.

A bright spot has been Bostic, as she has been one of Illinois’ best defenders from every level, as she is third on the team in steals (1.1) and second in blocks (0.7) per game. Her ability to take the ball away and block shots is a much-needed asset for a team that is fifth-worst in the Big Ten in both blocks (2.7) and steals (6.7) per contest.

Shoup-Hill has been the team’s best blocker, as her 0.8 blocks per game lead the team in just 13.2 minutes per game. Despite being the team’s center at 6-foot-3, Hobby has not created much resistance in the paint, averaging only 0.3 blocks per contest.

On the perimeter, McKenzie and Bryant have paired up to disrupt opposing backcourts with 1.3 steals per game each. McKenzie leads her squad with 40 total steals, followed by Bryant with 38. Cook has been no slouch either, with 1.1 takeaways a night.

One player who may see some time from the Fighting Illini’s second unit is point guard Kam’Ren Rhodes, who is a defensive-minded player. She owns a 1.0 defensive box plus-minus despite averaging just 7.8 minutes per game.

Rebounding is not much of a strength or weakness for Illinois, as it pulls down 36.2 per game — an average mark compared to CAA standards. Bostic, with her large frame, has been the third-best rebounder in the Big Ten with 10.5 per game. After Bostic, McKenzie and Hobby haul in 4.9 and 4.4 boards per contest, respectively.

If the game goes the way the numbers imply, then Stony Brook’s shot defense and superior rebounding may be able to carry it to the inaugural WBIT’s next round. The winner of this game will take on either the third-seeded Tulsa Golden Hurricane or the seventh-seeded Georgetown Hoyas next Thursday. The Golden Hurricane are 24-9 this season after beating Arkansas 80-62 last Thursday. The Hoyas are 23-11 and are coming off a 64-56 victory over Washington on the same day.

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