New head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s Kohl Center debut wasn’t the statement victory Wisconsin women’s basketball fans were hoping for, as the Badgers fell to the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles 80-63 Sunday.
After taking control as the first half wound down, the Golden Eagles (2-0) never looked back as their lead didn’t slip to less than eight points in the entire second half. Going on a 21-3 run that started near halftime and continued into the first five-plus minutes of the second period, Oral Roberts’ ability to score in bunches thwarted any opportunity for a Badgers (1-1) comeback.
Although Wisconsin remained competitive for much of the game, players and coaches said UW simply gave the Golden Eagles far too many opportunities to score and run away with the game.
“It was more about what we didn’t do as opposed to what they did,” Kelsey said. “[Oral Roberts] did what they normally do, and they do a good job at it, but you got to capitalize on the opportunities and we didn’t do that.”
Struggling to contain Oral Roberts’ star guard Kevi Luper, a two-time All-American Honorable Mention selection who finished with 34 points, the weak UW defense sealed its own fate by allowing three players to put up at least 15 points. The Golden Eagles shot over 49 percent from the field and nearly 35 percent from beyond the arc, numbers that allowed them to run away with a road win in the second half.
Despite the lopsided final score, the Badgers carried a lead with just less than five minutes to play in the first period, shooting close to 45 percent from both the field and from three-point range in the half. Led by Wurtz’s nine points in the first 20 minutes, along with eight points from both guard Jade Davis and forward Ashley Thomas, UW looked like an entirely different team in the second half.
As coaches and players emphasized, Wisconsin hurt themselves for much of the game and struggled to get the ball through the net from the free throw line, shooting only 53 percent (8-for-15) from the charity stripe against the Golden Eagles.
“I’m definitely not taking anything from Oral Roberts, they’re a great team, but, at the same time, we could’ve played much, much better,” senior guard Jade Davis said. “And the score, this game doesn’t show anyone how good we can be. I think there’s a lot for us to learn and there’s a lot for us to take from this game, but at the same time, it was all on us.”
With six lead changes in the first half, the Badgers’ 15 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and 31 in the game — the highest number in program history — kept them from gaining anything more than a single basket lead during the first half.
Wurtz led all scorers with 15 points, and was joined by Thomas and Davis among players who finished with double figures, but Kelsey noted that more players need to step up if they hope to bring down tough nonconference opponents.
“Taylor playing hot like she is, we need other people to step up their game … it can’t be just one person,” Kelsey said. “We have enough on this team to really play better basketball, but when you just have one person kind of carrying the load, everybody’s got to do their job. We needed more help.”
Oral Roberts only stretched their lead during the second half — up by as much as 21 at one point — as Luper and forward Jordan Pyle continued to pour on the points. While the Golden Eagles’ shooting slowed down in the second half, the team sunk eight of their 10 free throws in the second period to keep the Badgers from seriously threatening their lead.
Despite showing signs of a comeback early in the second half, the Badgers seemed unable to find a steady rhythm on the offensive end. Wisconsin nearly doubled up Oral Roberts on the boards with 48 rebounds to the Golden Eagles’ 26, but was unable to convert its opportunities, shooting 28 percent in the second half.
After picking up a dominant victory over Milwaukee Friday, the loss to Oral Roberts shows the Badgers still have plenty of improvements to make. The Golden Eagles may have closed out UW with a 17-point victory, but head coach Jerry Finkbeiner saw the Badgers as a team still growing comfortable in a new system that will improve quickly.
“We got them at the right time. We play them a month and a half from now, it’s going to be a tight game and we might lose at the buzzer,” Finkbeiner said. “But tonight, the first weekend of the season, it’s a great scheduling job on the part of my assistant coach.”