After leading 32-18 at the half, and by as many as 15 points early in the second, the Badgers struggled to stop the Bonnies’ offense late, giving up 38 points in the second half on 54.2 percent shooting from the field for SBU.
Although the Badgers had controlled the game for the first 22 minutes, they knew all along the Bonnies would not go down without a fight.
“You knew they were going to come back with a flurry,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “They did that with West Virginia; they were down by 17 and came back and won the game in their first round of the WNIT, pretty much the same exact way they did it to us.”
Dana Mitchell, a junior forward, led St. Bonaventure offensively with 12 points, despite shooting just 5-of-15 from the floor on the night. Mitchell was especially key during the Bonnies’ second-half comeback, scoring eight of her 12 points in the period, including six of the last eight points for SBU.
Junior forward Teah Gant posted a career-high 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 7-for-7 at the line, along with a career-high three blocks, to lead the Badgers. Tara Steinbauer, a sophomore forward, added 15 points and eight rebounds, including 12 first-half points to lead all scorers at the break.
Steinbauer’s play was important for Wisconsin with the team’s lack of depth inside after sophomore forward Lin Zastrow went down with an ankle injury in the Badgers’ last game.
“(It was) not a lack of effort,” Stone said of the loss. “The kids played their tails off; Teah had a career day, and Tara’s been very consistent for us. We’re without Lin, and I thought we did pretty well.”
As a team, the Bonnies presented several matchup problems for Wisconsin with their perimeter-based offense that frequently features all five SBU players above the 3-point arc. The Bonnies used their unique style effectively in the second half, creating driving lanes and attacking the hoop, something they failed to do early in the game.
After extending their lead to a game-high 15 points with 18:28 to go in the game, UW lost focus defensively, letting the Bonnies go on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes and 12 seconds.
“We didn’t play Wisconsin-style basketball in the second half,” Steinbauer said. “Our principles sort of failed, and that’s always hard to overcome.”
The game was back-and-forth over the next five minutes before SBU used a 12-0 run over a four-and-a-half minute stretch to take its first lead of the game at 46-44 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Wisconsin (19-15) was able to tie it at 46 within the next minute on a pair of Gant free throws, but the Badgers were never able to regain the lead over the final six minutes of play.
In the first half, UW was able to exploit its size advantage over the Bonnies, finding Steinbauer inside and out several times as the 6-foot-1 sophomore was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, including 2-of-2 from beyond the arc.
The Badgers built a 14-point advantage in the first half with 16 points in the paint — to 10 for SBU — and nine points off nine Bonnie turnovers.
Wisconsin’s defense was strong as usual in the first half, holding St. Bonaventure to just 18 points as a team while none of the Bonnies managed more than five first-half points, as Mitchell and forward Ashley Edwards led SBU with four apiece at the half.
“We were really, really disappointed with our first half,” SBU head coach Jim Crowley said. “I thought Wisconsin came out really prepared and very confident offensively and really got after us defensively.”
Unfortunately for the Badgers, as they have several times this season, they failed to carry over that first-half success into the second half.
After shooting better than 60 percent from the field in the first half, Wisconsin shot an abysmal 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from the field in the second half, including missing 7-of-9 shots over the final 5:08 of play.
The Bonnies, on the other hand, hit 13-of-24 in the second half, including a crucial layup by Mitchell with 1:49 remaining following a costly turnover by guard Alyssa Karel, which gave St. Bonaventure two of its 10 points off turnovers in the second half.
“We just tried to keep motivating ourselves … but they were hitting their shots and we weren’t,” Gant said. “I really don’t know what to say about that.”