Emotions ran high with seniors Stephanie Rich and Ebba Gebisa playing their final game on the Kohl Center floor, and it seemed early on that their last home game would be a successful evening.
“It was [a] win that we needed,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “And I tried not to make a big deal and get too sentimental and emotional before the game started. We don’t need anybody crying before the game started. This team needed a win and Steph (Rich) and Ebba (Gebisa) did a good job for us that way.”
Wisconsin led from start to finish, opening the game on a 13-2 run that was capped with an Ebba Gebisa left-handed baseline drive. Wisconsin extended the lead to 16-4 off Rich’s second 3-ball with 15:26 left in the first half.
“We just let the game come to us early and we need to continue to do that,” Rich said.
The Badger offense, though, stalled over the next five minutes, and the Wildcats took advantage. Guard Ifeoma Okonkwo scored six points as Northwestern forged an 8-0 run to pull within 16-12 with 10:17 left in the first half.
The Badgers ended the drought on a Janese Banks lay-up from Ashley Joesphson, then Rich found guard Shari’ Welton on the break to put the Badgers back up eight. Wisconsin continued to pad its lead heading into the locker room as Jolene Anderson and Rich added a 3-pointer each and Banks finished off a Steph Rich steal and feed with an easy lay-in as Wisconsin entered the intermission with a 36-22 halftime lead.
The second half opened with the Wildcats content on trading baskets and the Badgers trying to close out the game. After Northwestern guard Sarah Stutz scored inside to cut the Badgers’ lead to 10 at 38-28 with 16:41 to play, the Badgers mounted a 15-5 run to post their biggest lead at 20 points.
Anderson picked off Northwestern center Sarah Kwasinski on the rebound for the easy bucket and added an old-fashioned 3-point play moments later. Rich and Josephson both added 3-pointers as Wisconsin built a 53-33 lead with fewer than 10 minutes to go.
Northwestern, though, slowly chipped away at the lead. Okonkwo scored on a lay-up, then reserve forward A.J. Glasauer scored six-straight points to get the Wildcats back within 11 with 5:59 remaining.
The Wildcats then applied their trapping press for the first time in the game and caught the Badgers off guard. Melissa Culver’s steal and lay-up cut the lead to single digits, then Wisconsin was called for a backcourt violation, giving Northwestern another opportunity to pull off a late rally.
After Banks scored on a coast-to-coast driving lay-up to push the score to 60-49, Culver nailed a Wildcats’ 3-pointer and forward Suzanne Morrison scored on a reverse, inching the Wildcats closer at 60-54 with two minutes to go. Anderson, however, who finished just one point shy of tying her career high, swished her third triple of the game to give the Badgers some breathing room and a nine-point cushion at 63-54.
“I’ll say this — Jolene Anderson has my vote for Freshman of the Year,” Northwestern head coach Beth Combs said. “She’s an incredible player and she really carries this team. She knows how to get open and she knows how to get her teammates to get open.”
Wisconsin converted 5-for-7 free throws in the final minute to withstand Northwestern’s late scoring barrage.
Anderson shot 50 percent from the field in the win en route to her 28 points and six rebounds.
“That was my mindset going into the game, just helping the team get a win, especially for Steph (Rich) and Ebba (Gebisa),” Anderson said.
Rich finished off her home career with 17 points, including 4-for-9 from behind the arc, and also dished out a game-high six assists. The second half of Wisconsin’s freshman backcourt tandem, Janese Banks, added 11 points for Wisconsin.
Northwestern placed four players in double figures. Okonkwo and Stutz tallied 14 points apiece, and Glasauer and forward Melissa Miller each added 10. Northwestern leading scorer Sarah Kwasinski, averaging 11.6 points per game, was held scoreless in just six minutes of action.
With the win, Wisconsin eclipsed last season’s win total with 11 victories and the seniors notched a victory on senior day for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
“It’s nice to see a senior group going out on a high note and a freshman having a great game as we finish out the season so that can carry it over,” Stone said. “So I think it’s a combination of a lot of really good things for our team right now.”