As temperatures dropped into single digits, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team’s shooting percentage was not much higher against No. 23 Gonzaga (8-1) Tuesday night.
The Badgers shot a season low 32 percent from the field and were ice cold from three-point range only shooting 22.7 percent. The Badgers dropped their first home game of the season 55-70 to the Bulldogs, a game UW was in until the final minutes.
“Gonzaga’s a really good team, they’re battle tested, they’re NCAA [tournament] tested, and we’re trying to get where they are,” head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “But we could have played much better tonight, we had our opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them.”
Gonzaga jumped out to an early lead, starting the game on a 10-2 run. During that run, Wisconsin missed their first eight shots, and the points were a product of junior Michala Johnson converting two free throws.
Sophomore Nicole Bauman ended the drought by scoring a lefty layup 6:51into the game. That sparked a 10-0 Badger run after following a timeout, and went ahead 12-10 on a three from the top of the key by Bauman. The Badgers adjusted by pulling down boards consistently and pushing the ball up court. It would remain a tight game for the rest of the first half with the largest lead being Gonzaga by four at 22-18.
Junior forward Jacki Gulczynski kept the pace for the Badgers down the stretch in the first half. She knocked down a three to put the Badgers up 23-22 and after a Gonzaga make she hit a layup off a feed from Bauman as the shot clock expired.
After junior Ann Marie Brown pulled down an offensive rebound with 28 seconds remaining in the half, Wisconsin held the ball for the last shot. Taylor Wurtz took that shot and flushed a three with eight seconds left, sending the Badgers into the locker room ahead 29-28.
The Zags stormed out of the half on a 9-0 run, similar to that of the first half. And once again, Wisconsin responded, with a 11-2 run. Senior Morgan Paige, last game’s hero, took charge during that run and scored the Badgers next nine of 11, trimming the Bulldogs lead to 40-42. Paige finished with a game-high 19 points, and is only five away from reaching the 1,000-point benchmark. She also attempted a career-high 14 free throws.
To add to the rollercoaster, Gonzaga reeled off a 10-0 run to extend their lead 52-40, a run started and finished by three-pointers from senior point guard Jazmine Redmond. That finally buried the Badgers, and the closest they would get would be eight with 4:48 remaining.
UW’s offense became stagnant and became predictable due to a lack of ball movement.
While the Badgers struggled mightily shooting the ball, it seemed that the whole Gonzaga team had a hot hand. They finished the game shooting 45.6 percent from the field and shot 46.7 percent from beyond the arc (7-15). Coming into this game, the Badgers knew that a major key to victory would be eliminating the tre’s from Gonzaga, but failed to execute their game plan.
Jacki Gulczynski did not score in the second half after putting up eight in the first half. Her shooting woes continued as she saw several of her jumpers and three balls go in-and-out.
However, Gulczynski stepped up on the defensive and rebounding parts of her game after Johnson’s minutes were limited due to early foul trouble. Johnson picked up a second foul with 2:32 remaining in the second half and sat the remainder of the period. 37 seconds into the second half, she was called for an illegal screen and sat until the 9:45 mark. Johnson scored a season low six points in by far her most disappointing game of the season.
“Mick normally plays better defense than she did,” Kelsey said. “She can play much better than that, I know she’s disappointed in her play, it really does hurt us when she doesn’t get off to a good start because we depend on her.”
This put the low-block defensive responsibilities on Gulczynski, and the six-foot forward had the difficult tasks of containing 6-4 junior Sunny Greinacher. With Gulczynski matched up on her, Greinacher turned the ball over twice and did not score.
The Badgers game plan was to contain senior guard Haiden Palmer, the team’s leading scorer who averaged 17.3 points per game going into Tuesday night’s matchup. But Palmer only managed to score six points. Instead, Redman took the reigns and scored a team high 15 points after only averaging 4.4 heading into the game. Her backup, junior Danielle Walter scored a career-high as well with 10 points in support. Junior Keani Albanez added ten of her own, including two three pointers, and racked up five steals.
“We were set to contain number three [Palmer],” Paige said. “Other kids stepped up and hit shots for them … they did something uncharacteristic of what we had seen.”
“I give Bobbie a lot of credit, I’ll tell you, she’s got a real nice team,” Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves said. “They’re going to win a lot of Big Ten games, this is a good team.”
While Big Ten play does not start for another month, the Badgers will fly to Seattle and take on Washington (2-2) on Friday.