Five games into its still young season, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team is slowly beginning to find its identity, and Sunday provided more evidence of what that identity may become.
Behind yet another balanced scoring effort, Wisconsin (3-2) thrashed the Evansville Purple Aces (2-3) 73-55 at the Kohl Center.
It was the first time this season the Badgers had all three of their tri-captains — Taylor Wurtz, Morgan Paige and Tiera Stephen — in double figures, but it was the fourth game in the last five where UW had at least three scorers with 10 points or more.
Stephen had 13 points, and although it was her first game in double figures this year, her energy and jack-of-all trades capability helped spark the Badgers to the win over the Purple Aces.
“I think my biggest priority for this team is just my energy,” said Stephen, a fifth-year senior guard. “I feel like if I have high energy then, … it’s contagious. I feel like if I lead the team and bring high energy then the rest will come.”
The rest did come for Stephen, as she added five rebounds, seven assists and two steals to her career-high point total while amassing a team-high 35 minutes in the game.
But, as has been the case so far this season, the Badgers’ win was not just a single-player effort, with contributions coming from across the board. This included all five starters scoring seven or more points and seven players logging 15 or more minutes Sunday.
Junior guard Morgan Paige led the Badgers with 19 points, senior guard Wurtz added 11 of her own and the Badgers got seven apiece from Jacki Gulczynski and Cassie Rochel.
Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey credited the balanced scoring to the players’ improving knowledge of her offensive system.
“I think that [the balanced scoring] goes to them understanding that, if they’re not open, to hit the next person and not waste a lot of time trying to dribble and create something that’s not there,” Kelsey said.
There were only two lead changes in the game, and even though Wisconsin grabbed the lead for good when the score was 4-3 with 17 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the first half, UW had to work to maintain its lead. This was due in large part to the defensive scheme used by Evansville, a pack line look that mixed in a 2-2-1 full court press.
It took the Badgers time to adjust, but once they did, they were able to build their lead to 23 with just more than 12 minutes left in the second half.
“I probably should have made the adjustment in the first half, but I had never seen that defense,” Kelsey said. “I’ve never played against it, so it’s kind of hard to adjust to something you’ve never seen, but I thought the kids did a good job of adjusting to it.”
Also allowing the Badgers to pull away in the second half was their dominance of the boards, which led to a major advantage in second-chance points. Wisconsin out-rebounded the Purple Aces 40-31, but the real difference came in offensive rebounds, where the home squad had a 17-9 advantage.
Wisconsin used those offensive rebounds to its benefit, tallying a 22-7 edge in second-chance points. Leading the Badgers in offensive boards were Rochel and AnnMarie Brown with four each.
“I think second-chance points pretty much tells the story because you wind up fouling or giving up an easier basket, layup, something like that when you don’t box out the first time,” Kelsey said.
When it was all said and done, the story of Sunday’s game and Wisconsin’s identity this season is growing into one of consistency and balanced scoring. Wurtz and Paige scored in double figures Sunday and have done so in every game, a one-two scoring punch that could be crucial to the Badgers’ success the rest of the season. However, other players — especially Stephen in one of her better performances of the season — showed they could also score and contribute in other facets of the game.
Although Wisconsin has two capable scorers in Paige and Wurtz, its success will continue to hinge on a team effort and not just that of just one or two players, as it did Sunday.
“Taylor is always steady, Morgan is always steady, and we’ll bring others along,” Kelsey said. “But I thought it was a total team effort; it was a great game for our program and team.”