Illinois State women’s basketball has lived up to their winning expectations throughout the regular season, but they are not done yet.
The Redbirds’ 15-6 (12-6 MVC) is the best regular season finish since the 2012-2013 season and in the Kristen Gillespie era. The Redbirds’ closed the season on a five-game winning streak to solidify the No. 3 seed in the league's Hoops in the Heartland tournament.
The Redbirds missed their chance at last year’s tournament due to the pandemic, but now the team has the chance to chase those missed opportunities. With the new talent on this year’s roster, thanks to Gillespie’s commendable scouting efforts, the Redbirds' post season success looks promising.
The last stretch of the Redbirds’ regular season was not an easy journey. Drake, Bradley and Loyola-Chicago are all top-tier contenders in the tournament. Nevertheless, the Redbirds persevered. The program made history in sweeping Bradley for the first time since the 2011-2012 season and defeated Loyola-Chicago in the Windy City for the first time since 2014.
The addition of transfer sophomore forward DeAnna Wilson has been clutch for the Redbirds. Wilson has adjusted nicely to Division I competition. She is currently fourth on the team in scoring (9.1 average PPG) and both tied and passed her career high in points during the final stretch of the regular season, fresh off a 17-point performance against the Ramblers. Her recent offensive run combined with her dominant defensive presence down low scored her a spot in the starting lineup. Wilson has proven herself to be a key contributor in the Redbirds’ success in the regular season but her talent on both ends of the court will be crucial for post season success.
Redshirt freshman Maya Wong is an essential component of the Redbird bench, delivering in key match-ups and receiving praise from Gillespie for her spark on the Redbird offensive attack. Sixth on the team in scoring (6.2 PPG), the Normal native’s decision to redshirt her freshman year to adjust to the program appears to be paying off. Wong scored 13 points in game one of the regular season conference series against the Ramblers. She exploded with 11 points against I-74 rival Bradley. Only a freshman, Wong has shown potential to be a leader for the Redbirds in the future.
Upperclassmen Juliunn Redmond, Terrion Moore, Paige Saylor and Mary Crompton have propelled the Redbirds to new heights. Redmond leads all scorers with 13.6 points per game, followed by Crompton (11.2), Moore (11.1) and Saylor at the fifth spot (6.4). As a senior, Redmond has lived up to her role with the experience. Moore, one of the team’s top defenders, has done a stellar job at slowing down each opponent's leading scorer but she is also able to deliver on offense. The same can be said for Saylor, a senior who has demonstrated incredible flexibility on the court over the last two seasons. Crompton’s dominance from the behind the arc (averaging 46%) has lifted the Redbirds out of many offensive ruts in games. With about two years of eligibility left, the future only seems to be getting brighter for Crompton.
With that being said, the Redbirds’ have a lot to be proud of but their work is yet to be complete. ISU will face the Ramblers, the No. 6 seed, March 12. The team will need to take their winning momentum into Hoops in the Heartland if they want to get far. The Ramblers will be hungry for revenge after being swept by the Redbirds just this past weekend. Getting out to early leads, good looks, keeping a dominant and consistent defense and avoiding turnover troubles have helped The Redbirds seal wins all season. It only makes sense that these factors will be crucial for a successful run for the tournament title.