All the usual suspects showed up for Wisconsin on the offensive end of the floor Monday night against Michigan.
Star guard Taylor Wurtz piled in 21 points while Jade Davis put in 13 to guide the Badgers through a pesky Wolverines squad. But one name in the box score had a surprisingly seismic contribution for the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
In a game that saw the Badgers yield a 16-point lead to the Wolverines over seven minutes in the second half, one Wisconsin post player came through with a defining performance that made a difference. This time the player’s name wasn’t Anya Covington.
Sophomore Cassie Rochel was scoreless through the first half for the Badgers, but the young center stepped up when it mattered most, scoring all nine of her points in the second half while adding five rebounds to a solid performance.
For a player who admits to having a pass-first mentality, Rochel certainly grabbed the spotlight for herself in the Badgers third consecutive conference win.
“My biggest thing this year was struggling with confidence,” Rochel said. “But I really have to give all the credit to my guards. They found me when I was open, and I just happened to finish my layups this game.”
Rochel, who players and fans alike often refer to as a diamond in the rough, emerged during the most crucial stretch of the game. With little more than four minutes remaining in the game the score was deadlocked at 49-49, as the Wolverines used an 18-2 run to climb back from the abyss. But as quickly as the Wolverines had tied it the Badgers had an answer, as Rochel intelligently broke off-ball to the weak side of the basket where Badger guard Jade Davis quickly dumped it an easy Rochel layup. Rochel’s first points of the game were big ones, but she wasn’t done yet.
With the Badgers only leading by four with two minutes remaining, Rochel grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Morgan Paige miss and followed it up with a put-back layup. On the next offensive series Rochel once again helped the Badgers with a solid scoring look.
After Michigan’s Kate Thompson answered with a three on the ensuing possession, the Badger lead had dwindled to three with only one minute left. But once again, Rochel would not let the Badgers fall. Using a terrific post seal on the block against a smaller Michigan player, Rochel received a near-perfect entry pass from Paige.
From there it was all Rochel, as she used a quick drop step on the baseline to draw a conventional 3-point play. All nine of Rochel’s points came in the final four minutes and 13 seconds of the game.
Pressing issues at hand
In the first half the Badgers commandeered a stranglehold on the game rarely seen this season.
Up 26-16 heading into halftime, it looked like Wisconsin was in cruise control. The Badgers benefited from constant open looks throughout the floor while holding the Wolverines to a measly 23 percent from the floor.
But Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth had a defensive trick up his sleeve that almost jettisoned the struggling Wolverines out of the Kohl Center with a win.
After struggling to scrape up 16 points in the first half, Borseth turned a 2-1-2 half-court and sometimes full-court press on the Badgers. Borseth had displayed a glimpse of the press when the Wolverines were down 10-2 early in the game but unleashed it in full for almost the duration of the second half.
As the Badgers turned the ball over three times against the Wolverines’ aggressive press, their lead began to dwindle. The Wolverines benefited immensely from the Badgers second half miscues against the press, scoring 12 second half points off of Wisconsin turnovers.
“Part of it is not them necessarily [other teams] taking it out of our hands but the decision that’s made,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “You can’t just throw it and try to throw it over people, you have to use a fake, you have to use a step-through, a bounce pass every now and again … you can’t just turn and throw it.”
While the Wolverine press created turnovers it also created a mental challenge for the Badgers, as the team stopped looking inside and started settling for cross-court passes. During the Wolverines’ press and coinciding run the Badgers attempted five threes, all unsuccessful.
“Whatever we were doing wasn’t working … so I was ready to try something,” Borseth said. “Grab in the bag of tricks and see what happens. During that period of time maybe it changed the rhythm of their shots and they didn’t make any, and we maybe stayed in it too long.”