Black and white. Night and day. High definition and low definition. On top of the world and at rock bottom. Those are just some examples of how stark the difference in play was for the Wisconsin women’s basketball between its game Thursday and its game Sunday afternoon.
Taking what looked like a big step forward for the program when it upset No. 7 Penn State this past Thursday night, Wisconsin (10-12, 2-7) took two larger steps back in Sunday’s 64-56 loss to Illinois (13-8, 6-3).
Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey best explained the Badgers woes following Sunday’s game, in which they came out flat and struggled to find any rhythm.
“A lot of our problems in this game were the turnovers,” Kelsey said. “Some of those were not them taking the ball away from us, just us making poor decisions as far as passing decisions we’re making.”
Wisconsin actually jumped out to an early 10-5 lead in the first half and appeared to pick up right where it had left off in the upset win over Penn State. However, the Illinois defense – which averages 12.4 steals per game – upped the defensive pressure and forced the Badgers into 27 turnovers in the game, 19 of which came from Illini steals.
In the first half UW shot a fairly warm 44 percent from the field, but the 12 Wisconsin turnovers in the half allowed Illinois more opportunities to take advantage of, as the Illini took a 34-31 lead into halftime.
Difficulty passing and forced passes were a problem all game for Wisconsin, as the lack of smooth team play was clearly evident in the second half.
“We kind of got out of sync in the second half,” Paige said. “We got flustered, and like coach said we needed to stick together and we kind of disbanded a little bit and that really hurt us.”
“We really have to focus on sticking together and sticking with the game plan. I think that’s where we got away from it today.”
Paige was one of the few bright spots on offense in the game for Wisconsin, as she totaled 23 points in the game to follow up her 33-point career-high performance from Thursday night. Jacki Gulcznski and Tiera Stephen also scored in double figures for the Badgers, but their performances were not enough as Wisconsin mustered little else on offense.
The Badgers’ second half shooting performance matched the ice cold weather in Madison with only five made field goals in the entire second half.
In Wisconsin’s tough losses this year it seems that the Badgers falter in a different area of the game every time, but in Sunday’s loss it performed poorly across the board. Other than poor second half shooting and turnovers, Wisconsin had difficulty boxing out on the defensive glass leading to detrimental second chance points for the Illini. Wisconsin out-rebounded Illinois, but the Illini collected 13 offensive boards that kept Wisconsin from coming back late in the game.
“The boxing out is very disappointing,” Kelsey said. “We did not do what we said we needed to do or we knew we had to do. I warned the team that if we don’t box out we were going to lose the game, and that’s exactly what contributed to us not being successful today.”
The Illini didn’t play a spectacular game themselves by any means, but they were opportunistic throughout the game, taking advantage of the Badger mistakes, scoring 21 points off of turnovers and totaling 11 second chance points.
With the win, Illinois recorded its fifth road win in the Big Ten, improving its record to 5-0 on the road so far this conference season.
Illini head coach Matt Bollant was very proud of his team after the game, in referring to his players as “road warriors”.
“Winning on the road takes mentality. It’s one of the things that our players have grown a great deal in just having that fight and determination to not back down and then that belief. For us to win five on the road, that’s just huge,” Bollant said.