As far as heart-breaking losses go, Wednesday’s game for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team against No. 22 Nebraska might be the hardest one to swallow this season.
The Badgers (10-12, 3-7 Big Ten) hung tough with the Cornhuskers (16-5, 6-3 Big Ten) throughout the first and second halves before the two teams would eventually need overtime to settle the contest. But after clutch baskets by Nebraska All-American Jordan Hooper and guard Tear’a Laudermill in the overtime period, the Cornhuskers emerged victorious, knocking off Wisconsin, 71-70.
During the first 20 minutes of action, baskets were hard to come by as both teams combined to make just 19 field goals. Wisconsin, however, was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and took a 26-21 lead at the break. Nebraska’s 21 points were a season low for any half this season, and the Badgers held Hooper to two points.
Fifth-year senior Taylor Wurtz paced the Badgers with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists in the first half. She finished the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
The story of the second half was redshirt junior Michala Johnson, who scored 14 of her game-high 24 points in the second frame. Despite Johnson’s efforts, the Cornhuskers kept knocking down three-pointers to keep the game close throughout the half. The largest lead of the second half was just six, held by Wisconsin, and the two teams found themselves tied at 58 with just 1 minute, 18 seconds to go.
Following a Hooper basket to tie the game at 60 with 36 seconds to go, Wisconsin took a timeout to set up a final play. Coming out of the timeout, senior Morgan Paige drove to the basket but slipped and fell forcing a turnover to give Nebraska the ball with three seconds left. In the last three seconds Nebraska couldn’t get a shot off, and Wisconsin was heading for its third overtime game of the season.
In the overtime period, Johnson scored the first six points for the Badgers, but Nebraska continued to answer with three-pointers by Hooper and Laudermill that would give them a 70-66 lead. After a Johnson basket and Wurtz lay-in, the game was tied at 70 with a minute remaining.
A Nebraska free throw gave them a 71-70 lead, and after missed shots by Wurtz and Hooper, Wisconsin had the ball coming out of a timeout with 8.8 seconds to go still down by one. Junior Jacki Gulczynski inbounded the ball and eventually tried to find Johnson in the post, but her pass was batted away by Nebraska’s Emily Cady that sealed the game for the Cornhuskers.
“It came down to one play and we didn’t get it,” Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “[The last play] was to just get [Johnson] the ball. We had it right where we wanted it, but it didn’t go our way. She was scoring all night so we were going to get her the ball and let her see what she could do.”
Nebraska was well prepared for the final play. They knew where the ball was likely going to go, according to head coach Connie Yori.
“We thought the ball could go to Johnson, but we also thought they could run a ball-screen in that situation,” Yori said. “But we worked on that cross-screen in practice …You have to think that they’re either going to Johnson or run a ball-screen.”
It’s a another tough loss for the Badgers who recently ended a four-game losing streak by beating Ohio State this past Sunday.
In the end, Laudermill and Hooper were just too much for the Badgers. Laudermill, who was playing through illness, finished with 21 points on 5-of-10 three-point shooting, while Hooper ended up with 15 points and four rebounds.
Despite the close game against a ranked team, Wurtz said there are no moral victories, but they can take away valuable information from this game. She added they’re going to use what happened tonight to come back even stronger later in the season.
The Badgers will hit the road to face Indiana on Saturday before returning home next Wednesday for a battle with cross-state rival, Minnesota.
“We played tough … but we don’t like moral victories,” Wurtz said. “We just have to get back into the gym, watch the film and correct the little mistakes. Now we know that we can play with anybody in this league and we’re going to make a statement towards the end of the season.”