On a night where the weather outdoors changed quickly, so did the atmosphere inside the Kohl Center, as the Wisconsin women’s basketball team took down UW-Milwaukee 74-56 Sunday night in front of an announced crowd of 3,619.
Although the box score indicated the game was somewhat one-sided, the game was highly competitive throughout. Wisconsin (1-0) actually trailed for the better part of the first half and at one point found itself down 27-19 to the Panthers (1-1?) with 7 minutes and 33 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Badgers worked themselves back into the game by upping the pressure on the defensive end of the court, which head coach Bobbie Kelsey recognized as the deciding factor in the game.
“I told our kids don’t overlook them because Kyle [Rechlicz] will have [UW-Milwaukee] ready to play, and sure enough they were,” Kelsey said. “When we asserted ourselves and did what we were supposed to do, ran our offense and got up on them and made them dribble; I think that was the difference in the game, the pressure.”
A three-point basket by Panthers’ guard Angela Rodriguez pushed UWM’s lead to its largest at eight points, but the Badgers answered with a three-pointer of their own.
Fifth-year senior guard and tri-captain Tiera Stephen missed a jumper, but Jacki Gulczynski grabbed the offensive rebound and passed the ball off to freshman Nicole Bauman, who promptly drained the three-pointer. The three was part of 10 points on the night for Bauman, who also played a large role in the defensive pressure that helped to turn the game around for the Badgers.
After the game, Kelsey had nothing but praise for the freshman’s performance off the bench in her first collegiate action.
“Nicole just plays. She doesn’t know what the score is. [If] she’s open she is going to shoot it, and she’s a great shooter,” Kelsey said. “To be a freshman, she’s very fearless out there. … Nicole, we depend on her and I’ve been dependent on her since she stepped foot on this campus because I know she can play basketball.”
On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Stephen came up with one of her career-high eight steals and drove the length of floor for a layup, cutting UWM’s lead to 27-24.
UW followed that basket with several defensive stops, a jumper by Tessa Cichy and free throw by Dakota Whyte to tie the game at 27 with 5:05 remaining in the first half.
The game remained close for the remainder of the half, and Wisconsin took a 37-33 lead into the locker room.
The turning point of the game came in the opening two minutes of the second half, as Wisconsin was able to use a seven-point run to stretch its lead to 11, a lead it never relinquished.
Playing a large part in pulling away from the Panthers was not only UW’s tighter defensive play and smaller lineup, but also the play of senior tri-captain Taylor Wurtz. Wurtz missed UW’s two exhibition games with back problems but was back in full force Sunday and especially so in the second half.
Wurtz was held to three points in the first half, but with the help of her teammates she scored 13 second-half points, leading to her game-high total of 16.
“It felt great to be back and I was excited to get back on the floor and I thought that my teammates did a great job of helping me get into the rhythm,” Wurtz said. “Obviously, when you sit out for a while it’s an adjustment, but again, it’s easy when you have teammates communicating and helping you out there.”
Wurtz was not the only one in double figures, as three of her teammates also made it into double-digit scoring. This included sophomore AnnMarie Brown’s breakout performance of 11 points and 10 rebounds, her first career double-double.
Also reaching double figures was junior point guard Morgan Paige, the third of the tri-captains, who recorded 14 points along with three assists.
Kelsey said she was pleased to see the sharing of the scoring considering how many capable scorers Wisconsin has, but she is looking for the Badgers to be more consistent hitting open shots.
“We have a lot of scorers on our team,” Kelsey said. “It’s just a matter of us sharing the ball and working together, and people hitting open shots. You got to hit open shots.”
Not only was the game an in-state rivalry, but a former Badger player and assistant coach was at the helm for the Panthers in Rechlicz, which helped to stimulate the highly competitive atmosphere.
Rechlicz was on the sidelines for the Badgers last year as an assistant, and following the game she said she was impressed with how far Wisconsin has come since she left at the end of last season.
“Wisconsin has definitely gotten a lot better, and they have proven that they are ready to compete in the Big Ten,” Rechlicz said.