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Villanova Falls to Illinois, 71–57, in WBIT Championship

Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography
Junior guard Lucy Olsen scored 22 in the loss to Illinois.

The Wildcats were part of a historic night in NCAA women’s basketball, competing in the inaugural WBIT Championship on April 3 in Indianapolis, Ind.

After defeating Penn State, 58–53, in the semifinals on April 1, Villanova left Hinkle Fieldhouse with a 71–57 loss to Illinois.

Head coach Denise Dillon saw Villanova’s WBIT championship run as an indication of the program’s strength and the resilience of its players in the new tournament.

“With March Madness and the Sweet 16 last year, this group had high expectations of themselves,” Dillon said. “They are going to play for the program, and play with each other, and do whatever they can to advance in postseason play. We are going to continue to work to get a championship.”

Junior guard Lucy Olsen ended her breakout 2023–24 season with a 22-point performance, also recording six rebounds and five assists.

“[Olsen’s] effort is off the charts, and you see it on both ends of the floor,” Dillon said. “She’s relentless and she’s going to keep getting better.”

Senior guard Bella Runyan was the second-leading scorer, with 11 points, five defensive rebounds and three assists.

“We felt so connected,” Runyan said. “This run might have been the most fun I’ve had in my four years, just seeing the growth [of the team] throughout the tournament.”

It was a high-energy first half, as both teams put their offensive firepower on display.

Olsen and Runyan took care of Villanova’s side of the scoreboard in the first quarter, with Runyan sinking a pair of three-pointers in the opening two minutes. Olsen returned to her role as leading scorer, notching nine points in the first period.

The first ten minutes ended with the Wildcats trailing, 20–15.

Villanova continued to play from behind for most of the second quarter, while the score remained close.

Senior guard Maddie Burke made significant contributions off the bench to regain the lead for Villanova. With a jumper assisted by junior guard Kaitlyn Orihel and two threes assisted by Runyan, Burke went on a personal eight-point run. The scoring spree put the ‘Cats ahead 32–28 with less than two minutes until halftime.

The Wildcats held off the Illini until the half, only allowing them to score on a free throw.

Villanova’s offense declined significantly after halftime. The Wildcats shot just 24 percent from the field in a second-half breakdown.

Meanwhile, the Illini took off, with senior guard Makira Cook recording 22 points in the second half alone, after scoring just five in the first half.

A significant rebounding disadvantage also prevented the Wildcats from keeping pace with the Illini. Illinois claimed 24 rebounds in the second half to Villanova’s 16.

Early in the third quarter, Illinois went on a 16–0 run across four minutes that caused a dramatic shift in the game’s momentum. 

Freshman forward Brynn McCurry ended Villanova’s scoring drought with a three-pointer. Illinois still led by eight.

The Illinois advantage established in the second half proved difficult for Villanova to overcome. The ‘Cats entered the last ten minutes behind, 50–44.

Little changed for Villanova in the fourth quarter. The Illini went on another 8–0 run in the opening four minutes to lead by 14 points. 

Foul trouble also diminished opportunities for a late Villanova comeback. The Illini added on six points from the free throw line, while only junior forward Christina Dalce scored on two free throws for the ‘Cats.

Although the proximity to a championship in the inaugural WBIT caused a frustrating finale to the 2023–24 season, the Wildcats saw tremendous potential in their postseason performance to take into their next campaign.

“It didn’t end how we wanted, but I think it was a fun run,” Olsen said. “I wish we could’ve ended on a win. Hopefully next year we’ll have a little more anger and want to come out even stronger.”

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Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication with concentrations in Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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