It was a fitting end for the senior class Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
In a game mired by first half uncertainty and a struggling Taylor Wurtz, the Badgers headed into halftime down by five. But on Senior Day, Wisconsin showed that it saved its best half of basketball for last, outscoring Illinois (11-18, 5-11 Big Ten) 43-26 en route to a 72-60 victory.
Besides snapping a six-game losing streak, Wisconsin (9-19, 5-11) also secured the No. 9 seed and a matchup with No. 8 seed Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, as the Badgers’ senior class finished their last game at the Kohl Center.
“It’s an awesome day to be a senior and to be a Badger,” senior forward Anya Covington said.
Morgan Paige led all scorers with a career-high 29 points, while Wurtz poured in 21 of her own, 17 of which came in the second half. Wurtz also continued her prowess on the glass, as the team’s leading rebounder by pulling down 12 boards on her way to earning her sixth double-double of the season.
“I’m just very proud of them,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “Obviously for the seniors it’s a very good win for us to go out at the Kohl, in front of our fans, to give them something to remember.”
While Wisconsin was outshot in the first half by Illinois, the Badgers answered the Illini’s hot shooting with a scorching second half, as the team shot 64 percent from the field and 4-for-7 from three. The Badgers also won the battle for the charity stripe, converting on 16 of their 17 free throw attempts, led by Paige’s perfect 11-for-11 performance, good for a Kohl Center record.
The 72 points were the most Wisconsin had scored since a Feb. 2 loss to Iowa in overtime.
“The shots were falling for us,” Kelsey said. “Morgan and I were laughing because the last three she had was right in front of us and I was like, ‘That ain’t going in. Oh my God it went in.’ So that’s the kind of day we had today where as other days they don’t go in.”
The Badgers even overcame a big day from Illini guard Adrienne Godbold, as the sophomore scored 23 points thanks to a 10-for-16 performance from the field. Godbold, who comes off the bench for the Illini, previously averaged only 9.5 points per game.
“She’s really a starter,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. “But for me and my team she comes off the bench and brings the spark. She’s a gamer, and every time we need a basket or need a stop she’s there.”
Defensively, the Badgers were able to withstand another lacking performance. Overall, the team allowed the Illini to shoot 45 percent from the field. However, the Badgers were able to grab a decisive advantage on the glass, as they outrebounded the Illini, 36-17.
Two of those rebounds offered defining senior moments. With the Badgers up by 11 and under two minutes remaining, Wurtz missed the front end of a one-and-one. However, Covington soared to grab the ball, resulting in a jump ball and another Wisconsin possession. In the ensuing possession, Paige missed a three, only to see Davis bring down the offensive board, extending the possession and ending on a jumper from Covington to make the score 72-57.
It was the last point the Badgers would score in the game, as Kelsey burned three of her remaining timeouts to check her seniors out of the game, one by one. As Davis, Ashley Thomas and Covington were removed, they were each greeted with standing ovations from the Kohl Center crowd. Together, the three Badger seniors left their mark on their final home game, combining for 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.
“I’m glad we could get a win in front of our fans,” Kelsey said. “For the seniors, I could get them out and get them their applause and their just due because they deserve that, considering all the changes that happened this year. I just want to say the seniors and all the players have been really supportive of me and the staff. Like I said it could have gone good or it could go bad, and they decided they didn’t want to waste time being mad about it or whatever the feelings were.
“Our record doesn’t reflect what I feel they have accomplished. There were games that could’ve gone our way and could be different. I think that they persevered and really accepted us as coaches and were open to listening to what we had to tell them and working really hard to do that.”