Thursday night’s Valentine’s Day match-up between No. 18 Purdue and Wisconsin was not exactly a tale with a romantic ending.
After clinging to a 28-20 halftime lead, Wisconsin (11-14, 3-9) was outscored 38-20 in the second half by Purdue (19-5, 8-3) en route to a Boilermakers’ 58-48 win at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin shot 43 percent from the field in the first half, but was shut down by a resilient Purdue defense in the second, as the Boilermakers held the Badgers to just 26.9 percent shooting from the field in the first half. Purdue, on the other hand, shot 50 percent in the second half after woefully shooting 25.7 percent in the first.
“I thought we played a great first half,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “But, unfortunately the game is not played just in the first half. If it was 20 minutes we would have won, but it’s not, so we have to learn how to close out games.”
There were two players who factored into the Boilermakers’ second half comeback after trailing 28-20 at the break. Badger guard Jacki Gulczynski had 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting (finished with 19 on 6-of-10 shooting); and only one foul in the first half.
With 10:51 left in the game, however, Gulczynski had to sit on the bench after she picked up her fourth foul.
With Gulcyznski off the court, Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp felt a noticeable shift in the momentum of the game that allowed her team to take hold of the contest.
“Oh, absolutely,” Versyp said. “[Jacki] is a key player and is so tough to guard because she’s a post player and it’s hard for our post players to guard her because she can shoot the three so well.
“It was huge because against their zone we were trying to attack her quite a bit because we know how valuable she is.”
The Boilermakers outscored the Badgers by 11 the rest of the way en route to the victory, breaking a two-game skid.
“This is the first time that someone’s gotten their fourth this early in the game,” Kelsey said. “Maybe next time I’ll take [Jacki] out [when she has 3 fouls] because I have to build that trust back.”
The second player who factored into the Boilermaker’s second half comeback was Purdue guard, KK Houser.
Houser was 1-of-8 from the field for only 3 points in the first half, but exploded in the second half and ended the game with 20 points (one shy of her career high) and only missed one shot in the final 20 minutes.
“I felt like a lot of my threes were forced [in the first half],” Houser said, “but the confidence I got from my teammates and from my coaches really got me going.”
Houser was not a focus of the Badgers going into the game, but rather the Boilermaker’s leading scorer, Courtney Moses, who finished with just two points (12 off her season average).
“We took care of Moses,” Kelsey said, “but KK gets going and there you go, that’s the game.”
Houser’s hot shooting cleared up the paint for Drey Mingo who scored nine of her 12 points in the second half.
“[Houser’s shooting] made it really hard for her guard person to double down on me,” Mingo explained, “so it opened up the paint for me.”
Houser said part of the reason why the Boilermakers were able to explode for 38 points in the second half was because they benefited from an inside-out game, helping to stretch the Badgers defense and open up some open shots by making their opponent respect their balance.
The Boilermakers only committed 10 turnovers — compared to their season average of 19 — and outscored Wisconsin’s bench 12-0 (making them 11-3 on the season when winning the battle of the bench).
For the Badgers, it’s back to the drawing board.
“Towards the end of the game we didn’t execute the way that we wanted to,” Gulczynski said, “but we’re going to keep working in practice and make sure everyone knows where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there.”
One bright spot for the Badgers was junior forward Cassie Rochel, who had a career high seven blocks to go along with 13 rebounds and nine points.
Wisconsin hits the road against Illinois Monday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.