Although the Wisconsin Badgers are usually an inside-out team, finding their stroke from behind the three-point arc Thursday night was the key to putting away Northwestern in a 62-41 Wisconsin victory at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers finished the game shooting 43.5 percent from three-point range, and they were able to build an early lead on the Wildcats by shooting 63.6 percent from behind the arc in the first half. Wisconsin is often powered by its post play, but it was the opposite story in the first half Thursday, as UW was 7-of-11 from long range.
It may have been a different strategy than usual for the Badgers, but head coach Lisa Stone pointed out that her team is comfortable shooting the ball if it can’t find high percentage shots in the paint.
“Taylor [Wurtz] and Alyssa [Karel] were on fire, and you got to go to what’s working,” Stone said. “If Lin [Zastrow] can touch the ball and doesn’t have a shot, she’ll find the open shooter. Right now is the time of year where you have to make a play within the play, because again, we played Northwestern 12 days ago … you can’t reinvent the wheel before you play somebody.”
Wurtz, Karel and Zastrow all shot at least 60 percent from beyond the arc and led the Badgers’ offensive attack in the first half. Wurtz finished 3-of-5 for the game but hit all three of her three-pointers in the first half, giving her team a boost going into halftime.
Zastrow also displayed her range, hitting two three-pointers in the game, while Karel finished 3-of-5 from long distance, allowing UW to build a comfortable 33-22 lead at the half. Taking a season-high 23 shots from three-point range, the Wisconsin coaching staff encouraged players to pull up when they found open looks.
“I tell them not to hesitate. I say before every game, to Alyssa and Taylor and Jade [Davis], ‘If you’re [open], shoot it,’” Stone said. “They weren’t guarding Jade for awhile in the second half, and I said, ‘I don’t care, take 25 shots — if you’re open, shoot the ball.’”
The team still found success in the paint, picking up 20 points there, but the Badgers proved against Northwestern that they can become an outside team when their inside game isn’t as effective as usual.
Another key for the Badgers Thursday night was the strong defense they played throughout the game, holding Northwestern to just 41 points.
Northwestern scores an average of 69.4 points per game, but Wisconsin lived up to its defense-first mentality by holding the Wildcats to just 41 points, the lowest of any Big Ten opponent UW has faced this year.
Additionally, 41 points was a season-low for Northwestern, and the team noted much of that could be credited to the Badgers’ stifling defense.
“We scored 80 points the other night [against Illinois] … They just D-ed us up, I think a lot of [the low score] was their defense,” NU head coach Joe McKeown said.
A testimony to the strength of UW’s defense, the Badgers were also able to contain the Wildcats’ star player, senior Amy Jaeschke. Holding her to just 15 points, well below her season average of 22.7, Wisconsin eliminated a major part of Northwestern’s offensive system.
Relying on the double-team to limit Jaeschke’s solid looks at the basket, she had bursts of scoring but never found a consistent rhythm. Senior forward Lin Zastrow, who was matched up with Jaeschke for most of the night, credited the double-team for slowing down the standout senior.
“On the defensive end … it’s definitely not me,” Zastrow said. “If we played one-on-one, she would probably score almost every time. That double helps, and the team choking everything, it’s not me and I couldn’t do it one-on-one.”
Northwestern struggled shooting the ball all night, finishing the game at 32.1 percent from the field and 15.8 percent on shots from behind the arc. The weak shooting can be at least partially attributed to the tough, physical defense that UW relied on all night to pick up a crucial Big Ten win.
Even when the Wildcats started to make a comeback early in the second half, the defense quickly responded and was able to shut down Northwestern for much of the second half. If the Badgers can maintain that defensive intensity the rest of the year, they should find themselves filling up the win column.
“Defensively, when we’re locked in and understanding our personnel, it’s just five versus the ball, and it’s really fun to watch,” Stone said.