When entering the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon, it was extremely difficult to miss the massive group of blue-clad fans behind the Drake bench. Simply glancing over the Drake roster helped to recognize why there was a larger opposing fan base than at any other home game this year.
Drake’s roster contained two Wisconsin natives — and skilled ones at that.
With a large group of family and friends at the Kohl Center, Drake senior Rachael Hackbarth and junior Stephanie Running put on a show for their fans. Hackbarth, a Colgate native, put up her fifth double-double of the season, posting 20 points and 11 rebounds. Running, an Oak Creek native, recorded a solid eight points and seven rebounds.
It was a very quiet 20 points for Hackbarth, the Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer and rebounder, as the Bulldogs’ starting forward only shot six of 15 from the field. Yet the senior’s aggressive tenacity attacking the rim all game yielded fruits with 11 attempts from the charity stripe, as she converted eight of those tries.
The seven of Hackbarth’s 11 rebounds came in the second half, when the senior left her mark. When the Badgers made a push in the first half to whittle the Bulldog lead down to five, Hackbarth crashed the offensive glass on her own miss and scored on a second-chance layup.
After the Badgers rallied back from a 12-point deficit to tie the game late in the second half, Hackbarth once again took matters into her own hands. With the score tied at 42-42 with a little over seven minutes remaining, Hackbarth scored the next six points for the Bulldogs, effectively picking up her team’s offensive load. Hackbarth’s personal six-point run proved to be the difference maker in the entire game, as Drake never trailed the rest of the game.
“I keep kidding her she just doesn’t want to give me 30 points this year,” Drake head coach Amy Stephens said. “All season this year, we’ve seen her get stronger and stronger in the last ten minutes of the game. She made her free throws when she had to. She made her baskets, she got huge offensive rebounds and she willed us to a win through fatigue and playing big minutes.”
Press key in Badgers’ late push
For a while in the game against Drake, it looked like the Badgers could do nothing to cut into Drake’s sizeable lead. Then the Badgers went to a full-court press that caught the Bulldogs largely by surprise.
Faced with a 12-point Bulldog lead with 16 minutes remaining in the second half, the Badgers used their full-court press to completely erase the deficit, as the Badgers took the lead by one with seven minutes remaining.
“We didn’t even practice the press,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “It seems like when we don’t practice it we do it well, so maybe we won’t practice it anymore. Our kids are very smart.”
One of the many reasons for the Badgers’ success in the press was reserve guard Tiera Stephen. The junior played a large role of the bench, as the Stephen’s quickness and athleticism were on full display during her harassment of the Bulldog’s guards in the full court. Although Stephen’s numbers may not look impressive in the box score, the guard’s quick hands and suffocating pressure boosted the Badgers at a time where their defense was lacking.
“Tiera is somebody who can play defense,” Kelsey said. “She’s very quick and instinctual and knows when to go for the steal. I mean here and there she may foul, but for the most part she knows how to anticipate.”
Drake looked like they were just going to hand the ball over to Wisconsin against the press, as numerous jump balls and sloppy Bulldog passes helped the Badgers gain traction in the second half. But when it looked like Wisconsin was taking control of the game, Drake called a timeout and made the necessary adjustments to beat the Wisconsin press.
“We changed our formation on the entry against the press to give them a little bit of a different look,” Stephens said. “In the timeout, we really just encouraged our players to play to win. We came out flat to start the second half.”
While the tide had turned to the Badgers, suddenly the Bulldogs seemed to do no wrong, as the Drake guards quickly passed the ball to a forward breaking up the court that resulted in many two-on-one situations and a pair of easy layups.