In arguably its toughest game of the season so far, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team played host to its first ranked opponent of the season in No. 24 Gonzaga Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs were the victors, pulling out a 15-point victory of 70-55 and using a suffocating half-court trap and full-court pressure to hold the Badgers to their lowest field goal percentage on the season (32.1). UW also gave them their third loss of the season, all while holding out two key players for the Badgers in Dakota Whyte and Michala Johnson.
“We didn’t play our best ball [Tuesday],” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “It wasn’t a great game for us. We couldn’t hit a shot and with a lot of dribbling going nowhere.”
With the Badgers taking a one point lead in at halftime, Gonzaga came out in the second half with a half-court trap. Combined with a full-court press used in the first half and later in the second half as well, the Badgers committed 16 turnovers and kept giving the Bulldogs opportunities at crucial times. The defensive trap employed by the Bulldogs wasn’t anything the Badgers hadn’t seen before, but with Nicole Bauman playing the point guard position due to the struggles of starting point guard Whyte, the Bulldogs reaped the benefits and scored 12 of their points off of the 16 Badger turnovers.
“We’ve seen [the full court press] before. That is nothing new,” Kelsey said. “[Whyte] didn’t have a great start to the game, so we had to put [Bauman at point guard]. That’s not really her position. We’ve seen full court presses before, so it probably shouldn’t have bothered us as much as it appeared to. We should do a much better job with that and for some reason we kind of just let it bother us.”
A large part of the Bulldogs’ success on Tuesday was getting the Badger’s second best point scorer and best rebounder, Johnson, into foul trouble. The redshirt junior came in averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game but was held to just six points and nine rebounds. After picking up her third foul just 37 seconds into the second half, Johnson sat out the next nine minutes.
“In the second half, we just made some more defensive plays than they did and that was the difference,” Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves said. “I thought when [Johnson] went down with her foul trouble I thought that really hurt [Wisconsin].”
As Johnson sat out, junior forward Jackie Gulczynski was forced to fill in at the center position, who, like Bauman, was forced to play a position she’s not as comfortable with. Playing the five also forced Gulczynski to go up against 6-foot-4 Bulldog center, Sunny Greinacher, who scored 12 points on the night. Along with Greinacher, two six-foot forwards, Lindsay Sherbert and Danielle Walter, combined to score another 19 points for the Bulldogs.
“It’s always going to be difficult for me to go in and play the five,” Gulczynski said. “But if that’s what coach wants and that’s what the team needs then I’ll go in and play the five. [Gonzaga’s] a big team, so for me and AnnMarie [Brown] to try and contain their post, I thought we did a pretty good job of trying our best and staying physical. But you’re always going to miss [Johnson] when she’s in foul trouble. We just tried to contain them.”
The stifling Bulldog defense also held the Badgers to just five succesful three-pointers out of 22 attempts on the night, which was good for just 22.7 percent. Wisconsin came in dominating its opponents from downtown, making a total of 53 three-pointers as opposed to their opponents’ 28. UW’s starters went a combined 4-of-18 from beyond the arc. Senior guard Taylor Wurtz, who had a .375 three-pointer percentage this season, struggled on Tuesday, going just 2-of-7 from three-point range.
“We all struggled from the three-point line,” Kelsey said. “I think Morgan never goes [without a make], [Wurtz] struggled and she had several wide open ones that she never misses but she had a tough stretch there for a little bit. I know it was frustrating for her because she usually knocks those shots down.”
Tuesday’s game was one of the toughest games for the Badgers, who are in the midst of playing four power six conference opponents in five games, with Gonzaga making up the lone non-power six conference opponent.
“Gonzaga’s a really good team,” Kelsey said. “They’re battle tested, they’re NCAA tested and we’re trying to get where they are, but we could’ve played much better.”