With only one player reaching double figures, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team struggled on both ends of the floor Thursday night in a disappointing 46-62 defeat at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans.
Anya Covington led all scorers with 10 points, but shots consistently fell short or bounced off the rim with the shot clock inside five seconds as the Badgers spent most of the night chasing a hot-handed Michigan State team at the Kohl Center. UW limped to a 20 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc and sunk 38.5 percent of its shots from the field. Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey called it her team’s worst performance of the year.
MSU dominated play by scoring a commanding 40 points in the paint and outrebounding the Badgers handedly by a 38-21 margin.
“You’re going to have a game or two like this; this is really our first game where we played this poorly all year,” Kelsey said. “I thought we pretty much remained very competitive in our other games. So that’s the most disappointing part of the game, is that we did not give ourselves a chance to really compete to get the win.”
Though Wisconsin reigned in the Spartans’ lead to nine heading into halftime following a four-point boost from freshman guard Lacia Gorman, Michigan State controlled the second half. Never letting their lead slip below 11 and boasting a game-high 20-point cushion with 5:42 remaining, the Spartans silenced any thought of a UW comeback in the final 20 minutes.
Critical to MSU’s victory was senior forward Lykendra Johnson, who powered the Spartans’ post presence with 16 points to go along with seven rebounds. The Spartans’ physicality and aggressiveness on the boards were things head coach Suzy Merchant, whose team leads the Big Ten in defensive rebound percentage, emphasized heading into the contest.
“They were 1-10 when they were outrebounded, so that was a big focal point for us, and we won it,” Michigan State head coach Merchant said. “… That was another key defensive point.”
Wisconsin struggled to find any true offensive rhythm against a suffocating MSU defense, as Taylor Wurtz, the foundation of UW’s fast-paced offense, went 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-6 from three-point land.
Wurtz was held to only two points in the first half – both of which came on free throws – and coaches and players agreed that Wisconsin lacked the confidence with the ball early to emerge with a statement win in Madison. The Badgers held the lead just once in the game, and it came in the opening minute at 2-0, quickly allowing Michigan State to take over.
“We didn’t come out with energy, and that’s what we needed to do,” Covington said. “Michigan State always brings energy, and that’s what we lacked at the beginning of the game. Without energy, you don’t do the little things like get bouncing balls and get the rebounds that you could get.”
One of the few bright spots for the Badgers was Gorman’s nine points, which tied a career-high for the young point guard. Tiera Stephen, who finished with six points, also provided a nice spark off the bench with two quick steals midway through the first half that allowed Wisconsin to temporarily halt MSU’s momentum.
Against a skilled Michigan State squad that hit the Kohl Center hardwood winning three of its last four games, Kelsey pointed out that Wisconsin’s sloppy ball-handling and lack of urgency around the glass were simply too much to overcome.
“We didn’t help ourselves by not being aggressive on either end,” Kelsey said. “And we had some spurts; I’m not saying it was all negative, but with a team like this you can’t have so-so here and there, being very inconsistent, or they’re going to capitalize on it, which they did.”