Before the pageantry and pomp of the post-game festivities to honor the three seniors of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, they still had one game left in their regular season careers.
Wisconsin (10-18 overall, 3-13 Big Ten) and its seniors couldn’t end the regular season on a winning note, losing an overtime heartbreaker to Northwestern (15-14, 5-11) 77-73 in the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon.
It was only fitting that seniors Morgan Paige and Taylor Wurtz paced the way for theBadgers. Wurtz earned a double-double, scoring a team-high 18 points and ripping down 12 rebounds, also a team-high. Paige netted 16 points, and junior forward Michala Johnson matched that number, as well as grabbing 11 boards for a double-double.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and keep us in it,” Paige said. “[Senior day] is not as great when a ‘W’ doesn’t come with it so it’s one of those things where it’s bittersweet.”
The Wildcats had four players score double digit point totals. Freshman Nia Coffey led Northwestern with a game-high 19 points while fellow freshman Christen Inman added 18.
The first half was tightly contested, with four lead changes. Northwestern went up 20-15 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half after two free throws by Inman. Five points would be the largest lead for the Wildcats until junior forward Alex Cohen knocked down a three to extend their lead to seven (38-31).
Inman was able to convert on a toss-up prayer as time expired to end the half, putting the Wildcats up 40-33 as the teams headed into the locker room.
Wisconsin sophomore guard Dakota Whyte added 13 points off the bench, with 10 of those coming in the first half. She drove hard to the basket three times in the final two minutes and 20 seconds of the half, keeping the Badgers within striking distance.
“I came out with a burst and made sure that I was trying to get to the basket as much as I could because we were shooting a lot of threes,” Whyte said.
In the first half, the Badgers were able to convert only one three-point shot on 12 attempts (8.3 percent). Between the second half and overtime periods, Wisconsin only made one more from behind the arc, finishing 2-20 from downtown.
With just more than three minutes gone in the second half, the Badgers found themselves in a 10-point hole (47-37), then ripped off an 18-3 run. With just more than 10 minutes left, Wurtz knocked down a jumper to put the Badgers up 55-50, their largest lead of the game.
“We just tried to run a set play, and not just let them go off the dribble,” Kelsey said of her team’s run.
Northwestern would battle back to make it 57-56, but two scores by Johnson put the Badgers back up by 5.
The Wildcats would battle back once again, tying it at 66 with 1:38 to go. After a miscue on a pass between Whyte and Paige with 39 seconds on the clock, Inman went on the break and was fouled by Paige. Inman would make both from the line.
Sophomore guard Nicole Bauman drove hard to the hoop on the next possession for the Badgers and was fouled with 25 seconds to play. She too would convert both attempts from the charity stripe, tying the game at 68.
Wurtz rebounded a Coffey miss with 11 seconds remaining, and brought the ball up the court. Dribbling with her left hand, she made her signature move, crossing over to her right hand and pulling up from the elbow, hoping to be the hero on Senior Day. The ball hung up on the rim, and every person in the building could have sworn it was going down, but the ball fell out into the arms of Johnson with two seconds remaining.
“In practice, she makes that shot like it’s a layup,” Paige said. “I almost started cheering before it even went in. I would let her shoot that every single time.”
Kelsey was quick to call timeout, salvaging .2 seconds on the clock. The ensuing inbound was a lob to Johnson, who was able to get the shot off mid-air, but that too just missed, sending the game into overtime.
“We actually work on that play,” Kelsey said. “We don’t work on it everyday, but that’s all you can do, you don’t have time to catch it and fumble it.”
The Wildcats went on a 7-2 run to start overtime, with the Badgers only field goal of extra time coming on a weak-handed layup from Wurtz. Wisconsin closed it to 73-75 with 52 seconds left, but Johnson was unable to finish inside with 12 seconds to go, putting a damper on Senior Day.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort,” Kelsey said of her squad. “[I'm] proud of them. When you’re down a little bit and not winning games, it’s easy to quit, but they just don’t quit, they keep fighting.”