The circumstances looked bleak for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team four minutes into the second half Thursday night. The Badgers (5-2) were reeling from an 11-0 Boston College (3-5) run to make it 38-38 Golden Eagles and seemed to put the game out of reach.
Enter sophomores Tessa Cichy and Nicole Bauman. Head coach Bobbie Kelsey made the fateful decision to let the two 5-foot-10 guards control the backcourt for the middle of the second half, and both contributed to bring the Badgers back from a 10-point deficit and explode to a 74-59 victory over the Eagles in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.
Wisconsin was lacking any sort of energy or impetus to make a comeback prior to the substitution. But these young players know that it is there job to breathe life into the team and make the most of the opportunity when they step onto the court.
“Whenever I come into the game I’m looking to provide energy,” Cichy said. “I felt like that at that point we did not have a lot of energy, and I said to myself ‘Well, I bring that’.”
Both Cichy and Bauman played a scrappy first half, marked by diving for loose balls and chasing down long rebounds to allow second chance scoring opportunities. That type of play continued into the second half, and with Bauman at the point-guard feeding Cichy playing the two guard, they had the chance to make an impact on the outcome of the game for the first time this season. Bauman pulled down four boards and Cichy came away with two steals by the final buzzer.
Coming into the game, Cichy had only attempted two three-pointers in the season. But on Thursday evening, the Somerset, WI native’s all three attempts from beyond the arc found the bottom of the net. Her makes came at crucial points in the game, the first cutting Boston College’s lead to two at 44-42. Her next came with under ten minutes to play, and halted a 5-0 BC run, making it 45-49 and kept the Badgers in striking distance. Down by one with under six minutes left in the game, Cichy squared up and sunk a bomb from the left wing to put the Badgers up 55-53. That sparked a 13-0 Wisconsin run, and the Badgers never looked back.
“Tessa is a very smart player, and she uses her brain more so than her physical part of her game,” Kelsey said. “She’s a very good shooter, knows when to take shots, and knows where to get the ball to. We needed that lift off the bench.”
Bauman had an impact on the game in a much different way than her backcourt partner. She only attempted two shots, and finished the game with zero points in the scoring column. However, the other parts of her game made her an invaluable piece to the puzzle for the Badgers.
“She was out there orchestrating,” Kelsey said. “You don’t always have to score to affect the game, you can make a big impact without putting the ball in the basket because your presence and energy and your command of what you’re doing and your confidence goes a long way.”
Bauman also added stingy defense, shutting down junior guard Lauren Engeln. Engeln, like Johnson, is a transfer from the University of Connecticut. She only managed six points, and Bauman rejected her at the rim as a final statement with 1:24 remaining and riled up the 3,028 fans in the Kohl Center.
“The gameplan going in was that she was going to take two dribbles and then spin left,” Bauman said. “We knew she was a driver more than a shooter.”
The second half surge from the bench was much needed for the squad. In the first half, only three Badgers — junior Michala Johnson (14), fifth-year senior Taylor Wurtz (10), and sophomore Dakota Whyte (2) — scored. In the second half, Cichy added 13 points and junior Morgan Paige caught the hot hand at the end and finished with 12. Wurtz went on to lead all scorers with 22 and Johnson had 21.
Johnson scored her second half buckets because she was the beneficiary of several crisp entry passes from both Bauman and Cichy. Bauman said that rapid outside passing helped create wide open passing lanes and made feeding Johnson in the paint easy. Bauman had two assists and Cichy dished out 3 helpers on the evening.
“Nicole and Tessa are both very good players,” Kelsey said. “These two really understand, they have high motors and high energy, we needed it and they came through big time for us.”