Senior Day took on an emotional setting Saturday at the Kohl Center, and Wisconsin’s (14-12, 9-5) matchup with Michigan (16-10, 9-5) fit the somber pregame mood, as the Badgers fell 68-66 after an impressive comeback.
Playing without senior forward Tara Steinbauer, who suffered a torn ACL against Iowa, Wisconsin guard Jade Davis missed a three-pointer just before time expired to give Michigan the win. Up two points with a minute to go, junior guard Courtney Boylan made two straight baskets to give Michigan a lead it would never surrender.
After building a 12-point lead on the Badgers early in the second half, it appeared the matchup had turned into an easy win for the Wolverines. However, the Badgers displayed their resilience by finally finding an offensive rhythm in the closing minutes of the game.
“They’re a relentless group. We know we’re a second half team; we’ve talked about it. We talked about it at halftime,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “I knew that we’d give a valiant effort and play to the better end. I mean, there’s not a player on our team that didn’t leave themselves on the floor. They laid it out there and played very, very well.”
The Badgers led 5-3 less than two minutes into the game and didn’t regain the lead until just over four minutes remained in the game. With only two players in double figures and not one reaching the 15 points, Wisconsin struggled offensively for much of the contest.
Senior guard Alyssa Karel, UW’s leading scorer, finished with only nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. For the game, the Badgers managed 43.1 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc, but it simply wasn’t enough to take down a Michigan team that was finding its stroke in the first 20 minutes.
Rachel Sheffer led the Wolverines’ attack on offense, scoring 18 points in the first half. Although the Badgers held her to four points in the second half, Sheffer was crucial to Michigan, building a nine-point halftime lead.
“In the first half, she had our number a little bit. In the second half, my goal was to be as physical as possible and keep her out,” senior forward Lin Zastrow said. “In the first half, she got prime position and that’s hard to stop anyone. …So I just tried to be as physical as I could with her and keep her off the block.”
Sheffer was only one piece of a Michigan offense that was red-hot in the first half, and the Wolverines never allowed the Badgers to gain an advantage late in the half. Although they struggled from three-point range in the first half (shooting 21.4 percent), the Wolverines shot nearly 52 percent from the field.
Building on that lead for much of the first half, Wisconsin’s late run was simply not enough to bring down a Michigan team that dominated most of the game.
“I thought Jade’s shot was going in; [it] sat up in the air for a long time. I thought that was going down,” Stone said. “But the game doesn’t come down to one shot or one play. It comes down to 40 minutes, and I give Michigan a lot of credit. In the first half they found ways to get mismatches.”
The Wolverines also got a great boost from sophomore guard Kate Thompson in the second half, who hit three big shots from long distance that slowed Wisconsin’s momentum.
As several of the Badgers’ usual scorers had a hard time finding their game, Davis, a junior guard usually known for her defense, picked up her game in their absence, finishing with a career-high 14 points. Davis played a major role in keeping UW in the game late, shooting 50 percent from the floor to go along with four three-pointers, including one that gave Wisconsin a lead with just more than three minutes to go.
“Once we started moving and really working together, [the Michigan defense] couldn’t find us and Alyssa, Taylor — they were all able to find me,” Davis said. “Lin every once in a while tells me to shoot it when I’m wide open when I don’t really see that, so, I mean, it was just team effort, really.”
The Badgers may have minimized their chances of winning a Big Ten title with the loss, but UW is trying to stay positive and maintain perspective heading into the next game against Indiana Wednesday.
“We just have to take care of what we can take care of, control what we can control, and that’s the next game,” Stone said. “What I want our team to do is respond from this, play well, bring some momentum into the Big Ten Tournament and make some noise, because this is a really good team.”