With just five minutes to play, the Wisconsin Badgers (12-10, 7-3) appeared to have the game locked up. That was before the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans (19-3, 7-2) took over late in a heartbreaking 73-70 overtime loss for Wisconsin Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
In a battle for the top spot in the Big Ten, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team held a 12-point lead with less than six minutes to play, but Michigan State’s Kalisha Keane hit a three-pointer with 14 seconds left to force overtime. Wisconsin was able to get a great shot off a drive by senior Alyssa Karel, but after the ball rolled off the rim and Lin Zastrow’s put back came up short, the Badgers were unable to recover in overtime.
“Those are the ones you wish you can get back,” Zastrow said. “I just keep remembering what Coach [John] Barnes always says, ‘never short,’ and my last two shots were short … That one just didn’t fall our way.”
Keane struggled for much of the game but played her best when it mattered most. The senior forward scored seven points in overtime and proved to be the deciding factor in a very close game.
“She was really struggling tonight, for the majority of the game,” Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant said. “You have to give Wisconsin a lot of credit; I think they did a great job on her, really bodying her up on the perimeter and evading screens.”
Led by Zastrow, who posted a career-high 23 points, and Karel, who finished with 21, seniors once again dominated the game for UW.
With Michigan State up by as much as 11 in the first half, the Badgers were able to pull down the Spartans’ lead to two after a late run. Sparked by the play off the bench from forward Anya Covington and guard Tiera Stephen, Wisconsin regained a lot of momentum just before halftime.
After a big block from Covington just before the break, it seemed that the Badgers were ready to turn things around after a disappointing first half. With the Kohl Center crowd getting more involved in the game, Wisconsin came out of the locker room looking like a team ready to take down a nationally ranked opponent.
“We evened things out on the glass in the second half, put ourselves in a position, up by 12, to put them away and were unable to,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “But I told our team that it’s not one play that wins the game. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
Going 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and shooting 43.5 percent from the field in the second half, the Badgers went on a 10-0 run and were up by six with just over 10 minutes to play. They built that lead to as much as 12, but once the Spartans began making their shots, they didn’t look back.
Keane and her teammates, Cetera Washington and Courtney Schiffauer, began hitting as well. Guard Taylor Wurtz went down with an injury late, and Wisconsin scored just four points in the final five minutes of the game.
“Obviously, you hate games like this,” Karel said. “Like Lin said, there’s so many plays going through our minds right now … you want so many plays back. And yeah, we’re going to take the night to sulk about it and not feel very good about it. But the important thing is that tomorrow when we get to practice, it fuels us and it motivates us.”
Despite the fact the game came down to overtime, the Badgers could have made things a lot easier for themselves with a stronger performance early on. For much of the first half, Michigan State appeared to be in control of the game.
UW struggled to find a rhythm shooting the ball, going 28.6 percent from three-point range in the first 20 minutes, and did not attempt a single free throw. If not for the run just before halftime, Wisconsin may have found itself in a big hole going into the second half.
It was a very difficult game for the Badgers, but the fact that Wisconsin had a chance to beat the top-ranked team in the Big Ten shows how much this team has improved over the course of the season.
“I asked the two [seniors] how the locker room was, and it’s a little somber in there right now,” Stone said. “And it’s our job as coaches to pick them back up, because we are a good basketball team. We need to believe that, we need to throw our shoulders back … and get ready for Indiana.”