In a game that was close from start to finish, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team eventually fell to Kansas at the Kohl Center by a final score of 93-86 in overtime Sunday night.
After starting off the game strong and then coming back to take a 31-30 lead over Kansas at halftime, the Badgers put together a better second half. Shooting an impressive 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range in the second half, Wisconsin looked like it had the momentum going into overtime.
However, the Badgers could simply not stop the Jayhawks, who missed just one shot in overtime and relied on Carolyn Davis’ post play to get the win. Davis was especially effective after senior forward Lin Zastrow went down with a knee injury that will hopefully not keep her out for long.
With star senior guard Alyssa Karel returning from a knee injury that kept her out of the first three games of the season, the senior certainly made her presence felt, finishing the game with a team-high 27 points. Karel made enough of an impact that Kansas head coach Bonnie Henrickson admitted that she played a major role in defining the Jayhawks’ defensive strategy.
“[That] Karel kid is obviously fantastic off an on ball screen,” Henrickson said. “That’s why we went to the zone, honestly. [Karel] really dictated defensively what we did.”
Although the team has certainly missed Karel in its first couple games, the team believes that it happened at an ideal time before the crucial conference matchups start to get underway.
“Sitting out your senior year is definitely not an ideal situation, but if it was going to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better time, right at the beginning of the season,” Karel said. “I was really happy to be back today.”
Karel’s performance was matched by Kansas’ Davis, a sophomore forward who powered her team with 29 points and nine rebounds. Davis went 7-for-9 from the field and attempted 18 free throws, a statistic that represents how much trouble the Badgers had containing her.
Even though the Badgers often tried to control Davis with a double team, the Badgers still struggled to contain the long 6-foot-3 forward throughout the game.
“Obviously we knew going into this game that Carolyn Davis was an All-American, she’s great down low, got great hands,” senior forward Tara Steinbauer said. “So, you know the idea was to definitely get off and bring the double on her.”
Another major issue for the Badgers in the game was rebounding, as they finished the game with 20 less rebounds than the Jayhawks. Facing bigger players at several positions on the floor, Wisconsin struggled on both the offensive and defensive side to bring down the boards.
Despite their rebounding struggles, the Badgers made a major improvement in turnovers as they turned the ball over just 12 times, half as many times as they did against UW-Green Bay Thursday.
“I’m very proud of all my teammates, the way we reacted. Our energy was up, our emotions were up,” Karel said. “I’m really happy and really proud of my team, you know, the turnaround we had coming off Green Bay.”
Fifth-year senior guard Emily Neal also had a big game, coming off the bench to score a career-high 14 points to go along with four assists.
With Wisconsin down for much of the second half, Neal was especially important down the stretch, hitting three of her four shots from behind the arc and getting the Badgers back into the game. Her performance also included converting a four-point play that put the Badgers up by two late in the game.
“I’ve been working on my shot outside of practice and outside of games, and today, you know like I said, my teammates were looking for me and had confidence in me to knock down the shots, and they were going in,” Neal said.
Going into overtime, the Badgers thought they had the game in hand.
“Everybody in that circle believed we were going to win the game,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “The eyes, the nods, everybody was involved in this game. And that, you know, thrills me as a coach.”
Steinbauer also put together an impressive performance, continuing to prove that she can fulfill her role as a senior leader on the team by finishing with 16 points and leading the team with eight rebounds.
Even though the Badgers have now dropped two straight games after this tough loss to the Jayhawks, the team still sees plenty of positives to take away from their first matchup of the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge.
“It’s a game that’ll be good for us,” Stone said. “Unfortunately, we don’t like to lose, but this game will be something that we can grow from and get better.”