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It was a fitting end to Wisconsin’s final game of the season at the Kohl Center, as seniors Alyssa Karel and Lin Zastrow carried the Badgers to victory over Indiana.
In the absence of senior forward Tara Steinbauer, Zastrow made up for it in the paint by leading the team in scoring with 21 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Karel, while not reaching her 15.1 point per game average, showed her skill on the defensive end by tying a career-high with nine rebounds.
Seniors have powered the Badgers to victory all year, and it was a similar story in the second matchup with the Hoosiers. A close game all the way to the final buzzer, Zastrow’s 15 points in the second half were the key to a much-needed win for Wisconsin.
“I thought Lin responded in a big way in the second half,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “She took over when we needed her to, and our team found her. Defensively, she’s right now having to guard players that Tara probably used to guard.”
The defensive side of the ball wasn’t the only area where Zastrow had to make up for the lack of Steinbauer’s presence, as a three-point play from the senior forward to tie the game with just under 10 minutes to play gave UW a great deal of momentum. After that play, the Badgers never looked back, as they went on to lead the rest of the game.
Indiana relied on Wisconsin’s 20 turnovers and their 14 steals to keep it close against the Badgers, and it was Zastrow who was able to answer the Hoosiers’ dangerous, fast-paced offense.
“When they get on a run, they’re one of those teams that can just build off of that,” Zastrow said. “They have a lot of people that have a lot of energy, and they kept that up…but luckily we picked it up in the second half.”
Finishing 8-of-12 from the field and hitting all five of her free throws, Zastrow relentlessly attacked the inside and even drilled several shots from farther out, a great display of her all-around game. Although Zastrow got some help inside from junior Anya Covington and freshman Cassie Rochel, Wisconsin’s last game on the Kohl Center hardwood was about the seniors, and Zastrow treasured the moment.
“We didn’t play how we wanted, it wasn’t pretty, but I think when you look back at this game, you’ll always remember that you came away with a win in front of your fans that have supported you for the last four years, so that’s a great feeling,” Zastrow said.
As usual, Zastrow got plenty of help from fellow senior standout Karel, but it came in the form of rebounds rather than points. A player known for her ability to put up points, Karel led Wisconsin with nine rebounds, none more important than the one she grabbed with 35 seconds left.
Taking only eight shots in the game, the star senior did what she needed to do on offense, but realized Zastrow was dominating on the offensive side and did her best to contribute on the other side of the ball. Perhaps making an extra effort to make up for the void left by Steinbauer, who averaged 5.5 rebounds per game, Karel’s ability to collect the boards limited the number of second chances for Indiana.
“I was just trying to maybe be a little bit more aggressive here and there going up for the boards, again maybe trying to pick up something that we lost in Tara,” Karel said.
Karel may not have lit up the court like she usually does against the Hoosiers, but she was still a major contributor on the offensive side. In her last game at the Kohl Center, Karel had 12 points on a very efficient 4-of-8 shooting and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc. With 30 seconds left, it was the senior guard’s free throws that ultimately sealed the game, and all of Karel’s points were crucial ones.
It may not have been Senior Day, but it was still a memorable game for Wisconsin’s seniors, and in a familiar storyline, they were essential to yet another Badgers’ victory.
“I’m really happy for our seniors, to leave their last game on [the] Kohl Center floor with a ‘W’,” Stone said. “That’s really, really important, they mean a great deal to me and they know that. But for them to walk off that court with a ‘W,’ that’s special, and I hope that they’ll remember that for a long time.”