Mistakes are never equated to success in the world of sports, and having a record amount of them is hardly ever followed by the word success.
But somehow, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team was able to defy the odds and overcome a season-high 31 turnovers and still win handily over Alabama, 69-50, at the Kohl Center Saturday.
In a game marred by sloppy play and fouls, the Badgers (4-3) were aided by a poor shooting performance from Alabama (5-1) to hand the Crimson Tide its first loss of the season.
Despite forcing 31 turnovers with tight defensive play, Alabama did not transform the turnovers into points, which Crimson Tide head coach Wendell Hudson credited as a major reason for why his team could not stay in the game.
“We score a lot of [points] off of defense,” Hudson said. “Wisconsin had 31 turnovers, and we didn’t covert. We converted … 12 points [off of turnovers]; that’s not enough for 31 turnovers. Wisconsin never stopped, and they never gave us a chance; they never stopped scoring.”
The main reason Alabama could not score off turnovers – or in the game in general – was an ice-cold performance shooting the ball, especially in the first half.
At halftime, the Crimson Tide had only 17 points on 16 percent shooting from the field, and a large part of the misses came from behind the three-point line, where Alabama was 0-11 in the opening period and finished 5-31 on the game.
The Badgers, on the other hand, made the most of their opportunities when they did hold onto the ball, shooting 44 percent from the field and making half of their three-point tries.
Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey was aware of the high volume of turnovers, and although Wisconsin played its second-consecutive game without senior captain Taylor Wurtz, she linked the turnover problem more to the intensity of the Alabama defense.
“I think some of [the turnovers are related to not having Wurtz], but kids are trying to do too much of it on their own,” Kelsey said. “They need to pass the ball. When two [players] bear down on them, somebody else is open, and that window of opportunity to pass it is very short.”
With the leading scorer Wurtz sidelined with an injury, some younger players – and freshman especially – had the opportunities to step up into bigger roles. Freshmen Dakota Whyte and Nicole Bauman responded to the opportunities and came up big for the Badgers in the absence of Wurtz, Wisconsin’s second-leading scorer this season.
Bauman finished the game with 11 points on perfect shooting from the field, including 3-3 from long range. Equally impressive was Whyte, who totaled 13 points in only 19 minutes, most of her time coming with point guard Tiera Stephen on the bench due to foul trouble.
After the game Kelsey commented on the importance of the two freshmen’s performances without the senior guard anchoring the Badgers’ offense.
“[Whyte and Bauman's play] means everything because again, Taylor is a big part of what we do,” Kelsey said. “She commands a lot of attention because of her ability to shoot and create off the dribble. I told them because Taylor is not playing, we need two or three people to take up the slack.”
The Badgers also got a much-needed 24 points from another junior captain Morgan Paige to help fill that scoring void. Paige struggled with her shot in the first half and started the game 1-10 from the field. However, in the second half, she found her rhythm and broke loose for 19 of her game-high 24 points.
The game’s biggest story, other than the 31 turnovers, was UW’s balanced scoring effort, which allowed the team to separate itself early from the Crimson Tide. Wisconsin was only up five with less than five minutes off the clock in the first half, but the Badgers proceeded to go on an 11-0 run to extend their lead to 22-6. The run was capped off when Stephen snatched a pass out of mid-air and took the ball coast-to-coast for the easy layup.
As if a 35-17 halftime lead was not enough for Wisconsin, it used a 13-3 early second half run to all but put the game away. The Badgers held their largest lead in the game – a game in which they never trailed – at 29 points at the 5:11 mark of the second half. Although Alabama fought back near the end, the closest it got the rest of the way was 19.
Alabama came into the game with five players averaging double figures, but with a strong defensive effort and a hot shooting performance, the Badgers pulled away early for one of their most convincing wins of the season.
“Everybody was contributing and that’s what was so great about it in the first half. We got out to a really great start, and we continued to play well,” Paige said. “Even in the second half, my shots started falling but the offense for the most part looked really good.”