After losing six of their previous seven Big Ten games, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team was eager to break out of the in-conference slump.
The Badgers did so in a big way Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center in front of a crowd wearing pink rather than the usual red to support breast cancer awareness. Wisconsin (10-11, 3-6 Big Ten) took down conference rival Ohio State (14-11, 4-5) 82-71, marking the third Big Ten win for the Badgers this season, already matching last season’s conference win total.
After struggling from the field the past several games, the Badgers offense exploded. They shot the ball efficiently, with a 47.5 shooting percentage from the field, highlighted by a shooting effort in the second half that resulted in hitting more than 50 percent of their shots.
“The shots finally fell for us,” head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “We finally had our top scorers in double figures.”
The offensive charge was led by junior forward Jacki Gulczynski. She had a game-high 21 points and shot well from the field (8-14). Even more impressive was her performance behind the arc, drilling four of her five attempts from downtown.
Gulczynski kicked off the Badgers scoring with a three from the corner to tie the game at three points 3 minutes and 29 seconds into the game. She then knocked down a three from the left wing to extend the Badgers lead to 15-7. She picked up a loose ball under her own hoop, drew a foul and laid it in with her weak hand. Gulczynski’s free throw on the other side of the and-one put the Badgers up 28-17, the largest lead of the game to that point. She finished the first half with 15 points, and to go with her 15 boards through the full 40 minutes, tying her career-high.
Michala Johnson was not on the court for much of the first half after she picked up two quick fouls. She was forced to sit with 11:20 remaining in the first half and was replaced by her younger sister, freshman Malayna Johnson. The freshman forward pitched in five points, including her first field goal in her collegiate career. She held down the fort in the paint against bigger bodies, and the Badgers headed to the locker room with a 36-28 lead at halftime.
The second half was a different story in terms of production. Gulczynski only scored six points in the second half. Senior Taylor Wurtz had a silent first half, shooting 0-5 from the field (0-4 from behind the arc) and had no points. She came out of the tunnel for the second half possessed racking up 17 points in just one half. Wurtz also pulled down 14 rebounds and added three steals.
“Jacki and Taylor were monsters on the boards, defensively [rebounding] and on the offensive boards,” Kelsey said.
Wisconsin tallied 16 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Ohio State 49-34.
Michala Johnson, still in foul trouble, went to work down low in the second half as well. She finished the game with 21 points, tied with Gulczynski for the game high, and had seven rebounds.
Wurtz and Michala Johnson were the duo for a 16-5 run early in the second half that propelled the Badgers to victory.
Wurtz started the run by nailing a three for her first points of the game. Then, she drove hard to the basket for an and-one, which she converted.
Michala Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws, something she has been working on, and then another Wurtz layup and three had Wisconsin up 49-37.
Michala Johnson was then fed down low on the block and added two layups of her own. With 11 minutes to go, Michala Johnson showed off her outside range by knocking down a jumper from 12 feet out to put the Badgers up 62-40, in what would be their largest lead of the game.
“I feel like we really needed this win and I was going to do whatever it takes [to win],” Wurtz said. “We had a high pick on ball that coach put in on offense and that really opens things up for me to be aggressive and attack.”
However, Ohio State did not fail to make the final minutes of the game interesting. Head Coach Kevin McGuff had his team full court pressing and trapping the ball handlers leading to Wisconsin turnovers and the Buckeyes cut the lead to 7 with 2:39 remaining, but it was too little too late.
Dominating Ohio State is nothing new for Gulczynski. Last year she went for 32 points and 15 rebounds against the Buckeyes, and this year she was the Badgers key to victory.
“I guess I like playing Ohio State,” Gulczynski said. “Especially since our men had a tough time yesterday [against Ohio State], for us to get a win feels great.”