Not many teams are able to pull off wins hitting only 29 percent of their shots, but Wisconsin (10-11, 4-7 Big Ten) overcame their frigid shooting woes with an inspired team effort down the stretch to close out a 65-60 victory over Illinois (13-9, 5-7 Big Ten) Thursday night.
Despite some good looks early, the Badgers weren’t able to put the ball in the hoop, and Illinois took advantage, rattling off a 28-20 lead at the break, as guard Janelle Hughes had nine of her 11 points in the first half. Both teams’ leading scorers struggled in the first half, as Angelina Williams had only five points on 2-10 shooting for Illinois, while Anderson nabbed six points on 3-of-11 from the field.
Wisconsin shot only 8-for-36 in the first half as a team, good for 22 percent. Illinois wasn’t much better at 33 percent, but it was enough to hold the lead. Down eight at the start of the second half, Wisconsin was forced to play catch-up, but Wisconsin missed 11 of its first 12 shots after intermission, allowing the Illini some breathing room. Williams switched to defend Anderson and, with a stingy defensive effort, gave the freshman fits, as she had little room to get her shot off. Even when Anderson managed to get a shot off, Williams was there for the block on three occasions.
Williams nailed her 3-pointer of the night, giving Illinois its first double-digit lead at 33-23. Rich countered with her second triple of the game to put the Badgers within seven at the 14:37 mark of the second half.
Still trailing 42-32 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Badgers appeared to be in trouble. But Wisconsin, who was down at Iowa by 16 points in the first half, began to mount their comeback. Josephson dropped in a jumper in the lane, and reserve Shari’ Welton, who played only four minutes, drained a jumper off a feed from Josephson to put the Badgers within six at 42-36.
The Badgers continued chipping away, and soon no Badger could miss. Rich found forward Annie Nelson, who was fouled while making her first basket of the game, completing the 3-point play. Moments later, Rich calmly pulled up from the left side of the arc and sank another 3, tying the game at 42 apiece with 7:55 left in the game.
“Defensively, I think we stepped up, and then we put the press on and got some steals,” Rich said. “I think we were down four, and Ebba’s (Gebisa) just like, “We’re not losing this game,” and we just kept building, building, building.”
After Illinois’ Brittney Daugherty scored down low, Anderson found herself with a rare open look, and nailed her first 3-pointer in six tries, giving the Badgers their first lead since 2-0 at 47-46. Nelson added a rebound bucket, and guard Janese Banks followed it up with two free throws, completing an improbable 17-4 run with 4:29 remaining. Wisconsin appeared to be in control as Josephson scored off a feed from Banks to give Wisconsin its biggest lead, 57-51, with 2:42 left on the clock. But the momentum would quickly change as Williams sank a 3-pointer over Rich, and picked Anderson’s pocket at center court to put Illinois within one with two minutes to go.
After a Badger turnover, Hughes scored on a jumper in the lane, giving Illinois the lead at 58-57. Wasting no time, Banks drove inside and was fouled. She hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 58-58 with 1:11 remaining.
Williams tried to put the Illini back on top, but her running lay-up rolled out. In the ensuing struggle, the Illini accidentally fouled Nelson, who hit both free throws. Moments later, she got the rebound again off the Williams miss and added two more from the line. Wisconsin hit 8-for-10 free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
“We wanted to come into the game and get to the line, but also hit them,” Banks said. “You just got to keep confidence in yourself. In the first half, after missing three, I was down on myself. You just got to come back and know that your team’s counting on you.”
Williams scored with five seconds left, but it was too little too late as the Badgers picked up their second-straight win in front of a raucous crowd at the Kohl Center.
“The crowd was awesome. They were on the edge of their seats, and they generated a lot of energy for us,” Rich said.
Anderson, despite shooting 6-for-20 from the floor, led Wisconsin with her third double-double of the season, picking up 17 points and 14 rebounds. Nelson tossed in the first double-double of her career with 12 points and 11 boards. Rich rounded out the double-figure scoring barrage with 11 points, including hitting 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Williams was more than impressive, finishing with 26 points, six assists, three steals and three blocks. Hughes added 11 in a losing effort. Wisconsin completed the comeback for the second-straight game, this time for their 10th win of the season.
“It’s been a little bit of our trademark, recently,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “Look at our games too early in the season … we came up short. Now we’re starting to push it over.”