It was not a pretty game by any means when Wisconsin topped Alabama 69-50 Saturday afternoon.
The two teams combined for more than 45 turnovers and shot just 31 percent from the field.
It was a defensive-minded battle, and considering they were facing the Tide, it was exactly what the Badgers needed.
Alabama (5-1) entered Saturday’s game undefeated and averaging 85.4 points per game, best in the Southeastern Conference. Wisconsin (4-3) opened the game in a matchup-type 2-3 zone, confusing Alabama throughout the game by mixing in man-to-man defense.
The zone proved a difficult one to adjust to.
“I just figured we couldn’t chase them around like we normally do,” head coach Bobbie Kelsey said of implementing the strategy. “We get tired when we chase people, so you might see more zone, because it helps us and saves us from getting fouls.”
The zone also proved to be a difficult one for Alabama to adjust to. When they did, the shots just didn’t fall.
“We expected a zone. … Playing us in man right now is not very healthy,” Alabama head coach Wendell Hudson said. “We had the right people shooting three-point shots; we had our three-point shooters shooting them.”
The Tide came in shooting a passable 36 percent on the season but were held to just 22 percent shooting in the game. Their 5-31 three-point shooting (16 percent), could have been worse, too, if not for a hot stretch by guard Daisha Simmons near the end of the game.
With four minutes remaining in the second half and Wisconsin leading 63-36, Simmons made three quick shots to boost the Tide’s percentage above single digits. Previously, Alabama had made just one of 25 three-point shots.
Alabama guards Jasmine Robinson and Shafontaye Myers combined for just eight points Saturday, finishing 2-15 on the day. The duo entered the game averaging more than 15 points per game each.
Although Myers and Robinson may have been the focal point of Alabama’s offense throughout the season, Kelsey and the Badgers prepared for a full-team attack from the Tide.
“Since we were playing a zone, we were just going to guard whoever has the ball … and everyone else was in zone,” Kelsey said. “That kept them from getting open looks. … We tried to focus on everybody and hope they miss, which they did.”
Shooting woes were not unique to just Alabama, at least in the first half.
Morgan Paige entered the game as Wisconsin’s leading scorer, averaging more than 14 points per contest. But points were at a minimum for Paige as the game began, and she tallied just three points in the first half with a 1-10 shooting performance.
Paige then found her groove from the free throw line, making four of five free throw tries in the opening minutes of the second half.
A few three-pointers followed, and as the final buzzer sounded, Paige had a season-high 24 points.
The offensive mentality of the junior guard helped her toward a rather quiet and unnoticed scoring outburst.
“Morgan understands how to move without the ball,” Kelsey said. “Basketball is an instinctual game; you have to have instincts and anticipation skills to be able to read when something is not working and make a play. Morgan is a playmaker.”
Paige’s points are now of even greater value for Wisconsin, as fellow captain Taylor Wurtz has been sidelined with a nagging back injury. Although there may be more pressure on her to score, Paige is still counting on her teammates to help fill the scoring void left by Wurtz’s absence.
“I know I’m in a scoring role, but I don’t have to make up Taylor’s points,” Paige said. “We have more than capable players on our team that can contribute and I feel like getting them involved is more important than me just trying to take over a game.”