In a two-point victory over the Saint Louis Billikens Monday night, Bobbie Kelsey’s squad proved it has the inside presence and adept passing ability to create high percentage shots in the paint.
After falling behind Saint Louis (2-6) by five points at halftime, the Badgers’ (4-5) hot shooting fueled a second-half comeback that eventually allowed them to close out their fourth victory of the year in a 48-46 defensive battle. Shooting an impressive 59 percent in the second half — more than 20 percentage points above their season average entering the game — the inside success of a trio of forwards in Ashley Thomas, Anya Covington and Cassie Rochel was critical in making up for Wisconsin’s poor first-half shooting.
“They did a much, much better job of going inside in the second half, and they exploited the size differential,” Saint Louis head coach Shimmy Gray-Miller said. “Their post players are bigger than ours and very skilled, and those were some very tough turnaround shots that Covington and Thomas made.”
Thomas led the charge with 14 points, with Covington and Rochel both finishing with eight points apiece, together establishing a dominant presence in the second half.
Wisconsin has struggled to convert their jumpers this season, as it took the Kohl Center court Monday with a 38 percent shooting percentage from the floor. In the first half, it looked to be a similar story, as an ugly 25 percent conversion rate left Wisconsin with 17 points in the first half and searching for the bottom of the net.
However, by doubling their points in the paint in the latter half of the matchup and relying on textbook short jumpers from arm’s distance of the hoop, the Badgers showed they can take advantage of their physical and skilled post players.
Thomas key to Wisconsin victory with career night
Playing all but one minute in the low-scoring battle with the Billikens, Thomas was the Badgers’ go-to post player against Saint Louis, finishing with a career-best 14 points and seven rebounds.
Thomas contributed on all ends of the ball, picking up a block and three assists to go along with her double-digit scoring effort on a 6-for-8 shooting night.
The senior captain, who never averaged more than 10.5 minutes per game in her first three years suiting up for UW, also proved valuable on the sidelines, as the Badgers trailed the Billikens by as much as seven points early in the second half.
“[Ashley’s] a competitor,” Kelsey said. “To her credit, she was in one of those huddles, and I didn’t have to say anything; she was in people’s faces. … She really did give us that lift that we needed. She has fire in her, and anybody that plays with her and watches her understands that.”
As she solidified in arguably the best performance of her four-year career, Thomas is quickly developing into one of the Badgers’ top post threats alongside Covington. The Glenview, Ill., native is now averaging 7.8 points per contest, and her efficiency both in the post and on the glass could be exactly what UW needs to stay competitive in the Big Ten.
Clearly frustrated by Wisconsin’s lack of offense for much of the Saint Louis game, the senior forward brought an intensity that proved crucial to an uncomfortably close Badgers victory.
“We need to be competitive in every single game; we aren’t going to just lay over and let somebody run us over and win,” Thomas said. “That second half, if that’s what it takes, I just try to be a vocal leader so I can try to encourage people or try to get people going, whatever it takes for us to just rally and get it done.”
Although Thomas, in veteran fashion, refused to take sole credit for her breakthrough performance Monday, it’s clear her post moves and scoring ability will only grow as the season progresses.
With zero turnovers and perfect 2-for-2 shooting from the free throw line, Thomas showed she can not only score, but can also be counted on to take care of the ball for a team that has faced serious turnover issues all season.
“I will definitely credit my teammates for getting me the ball when I was open or making a good pass,” Thomas said. “A big thing for me has just been trying to slow down before making my move, so I just try to do that.”