Despite entering winter break on a 10-game winning streak — the second-longest in program history — the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team has had mixed results so far in Big Ten play, tallying a 3-4 record while most students were away from campus.
Wisconsin opened Big Ten play at home against Iowa, who earned a share of the conference title last season. With a week to prepare, the Badgers were well-rested, a distinct contrast from the Hawkeyes who had defeated Drake on the road just two days earlier. It was the Hawkeyes, however, who used their momentum to take control of the game.
Despite rallying back from a 20-point deficit, the Badgers could never get closer than within nine points in the second half as Iowa defeated Wisconsin 73-63 at the Kohl Center.
The loss was the Badgers’ first at home and their first since losing at South Dakota State University, snapping Wisconsin’s 10-game winning streak.
“This is one game, and it’s one game that we’ll learn from,” head coach Lisa Stone said following the game. “We made a valiant effort late, it’s just that we started playing good basketball too late [and] we dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
Following the loss, the Badgers took some time off for the holidays before returning to the Kohl Center to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in another Big Ten home matchup.
The game took on greater importance for Wisconsin following the loss to Iowa, as they did not want to open conference play with back-to-back home losses.
After opening the game with a 5-0 lead the Badgers’ shooters went cold, letting the Gophers reel off an 18-0 run over a six-minute stretch to take control of the game. Wisconsin never panicked, however, and it used defense and a pair of Alyssa Karel 3-pointers to cut the lead to three points with a 10-0 run over the next five minutes.
The key to the game from that point on was the Gophers’ inability to hit the outside shot, something they usually excel at. After hitting on each of its first three tries, Minnesota went 1-for-11 the rest of the way from beyond the arc, including an 0-for-4 effort from leading scorer Emily Fox.
Wisconsin took advantage of Fox’s struggles as a career-high 17 points from Teah Gant and 19 from Karel led the Badgers to a 62-52 win.
“I’m very, very proud of our basketball team,” Stone said. “We didn’t give up, we kept the fight. We battled and switched the energy and momentum back in our direction; once we took the lead in the first half we started playing the way we wanted to play.”
From there, UW went on the road for a New Year’s Day battle with Illinois. The Badgers came away from the game with a 53-38 win, led by 13 points from Karel and their best defensive effort of the season.
After leading 28-17 at the half, the Badgers used a 14-4 run over the first 7 1/2 minutes to extend their lead to 21 points at 42-21. With just under five minutes to play, Wisconsin pushed its lead to 53-28, before the Illini scored 10 unanswered points to finish the game.
Following the win in Champaign, the Badgers hit the road again for a game against the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston, Ill. In another defensive affair, the ‘Cats came out on top in the end with a thrilling 49-46 upset victory, their first in conference play.
Despite a game-high 19 points by Karel, the Northwestern defense was able to keep her from getting the ball in the final seconds to hang on to a three-point lead.
Northwestern matched Wisconsin’s stifling defense with multiple defensive looks of its own, including a triangle-and-two with three Wildcats playing zone while two others played man-to-man on Karel and fellow guard Rae Lin D’Alie.
“We didn’t want their guards to control the game,” NU head coach Joe McKeown said. “Their guards are really good and can control the flow of the game.”
UW’s losing streak stretched to two games when it returned home to face Ohio State, the Big Ten’s top-ranked team. Jantel Lavender proved too much for the Badgers, scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Star Allen also recorded a double-double for the Buckeyes, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 boards.
Ohio State’s defense, one of the best in the conference, held the Badgers to a Kohl Center record low 25.5 percent shooting from the field. Karel also had her worst game of the season against OSU, shooting just 1-of-11 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line for a season-low five points.
“It’s always hard in big games when you want to get pumped up for it and stuff’s just not following for you,” Karel said. “I think the most important thing now is that I don’t let it happen two games in a row.”
Wisconsin bounced back quickly after losing consecutive games for the first time all year, downing Michigan 58-54 at the Kohl Center just three days later.
After jumping out to a 12-1 lead over the first eight minutes, the Badgers held off the Wolverines down the stretch on a strong effort from junior forward Mariah Dunham. The 6-foot-1-inch junior led all scorers with a season-high 17 points on 7-of-9 from the field.
“I just came out with more of a scoring mentality,” Dunham said. “My teammates really got me the ball really well in the post and it was easy for me to score.”
After splitting its first six games of conference play, Wisconsin hit the road for a tough matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers. The game was close throughout, but the Hoosiers prevailed in the end, coming away with a 64-61 victory.
Indiana was carried by its shooting from the charity stripe in a game that featured 46 fouls between the two teams. The Hoosiers hit 24-of-32 from the line, including 14-of-14 over the final four minutes in the game, which was crucial as the Badgers held Indiana to just one field goal over the same stretch.
Despite leading by four points with just under five minutes remaining following a Dunham 3-pointer, fouls and turnovers prevented Wisconsin from coming away with the road victory.