With 6:58 remaining on the clock and a one point lead, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team looked prepared to finish their impressive, come-from-behind victory over the Drake Bulldogs.
Disrupting the Bulldogs (4-4) with a defensive press that forced six second half turnovers from Drake, Wisconsin (4-7) went on a 10-1 run that left them with a 45-44 lead. However, the Badgers quickly surrendered their lead as the Bulldogs shot 43 percent from the field, leaving UW with a 65-54 defeat at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers were down by as much as 12 in the second half on their home hardwood, but Drake head coach Amy Stephens felt a late run by Bobbie Kelsey’s squad was inevitable.
“We came out flat to start the second half, and you knew the Badgers were going to come out on fire to start the second half,” Stephens said. “We got up 10, and then they slapped the press on and really pressured, and we did not handle it well. … From about the 10, nine minute mark, we knew it was going to come down to the wire, and fortunately we finally adjusted and got some easy baskets, which gave us confidence.”
Led by standout guard Taylor Wurtz, who put up 10 of her 12 points in the second half, and senior guard Jade Davis, who also finished with a dozen points, UW spent most of the contest chasing a comfortable Drake lead. While the Bullldogs had no trouble draining high-percentage inside shots and went 5-10 from beyond the arc, the Badgers struggled with a .351 shooting night from the floor and a 24 percent conversion rate from long distance.
Despite their loss – the second in four days after dropping a road game to Kansas – Kelsey was impressed with the flashes of a great offensive rhythm, proving that they are becoming comfortable in her new offensive system.
“They’re really listening, trying to do the things that we ask them to do,” Kelsey said. “We watched our offensive sets in that Kansas game where we ran no offense at all, and I think they were determined to show that they can run offense and do the things that we’re asking them to do.”
After taking the lead more than halfway through the second period, in a mere 90 seconds Wisconsin was in a five-point hole, a lead Drake only built in the closing minutes to complete an impressive road victory for the mid-major. Powering the Bulldogs in the second half was star forward Rachael Hackbarth, who scored 12 points in the second half and ended the game with 20 points to her name.
Though the late drive proved fruitless, coaches and players alike were proud of their second half effort, during which they scored six points off turnovers.
“I think it says that we have good team chemistry, and when things go wrong, we stick together,” Wurtz said of the late comeback. “It says that we’re competitive, but we just need to stop putting ourselves in the hole and come right out of the gates ready to play and ready to battle from the very beginning.”
Down by nine points at halftime, the Badgers watched their opponent build on its already sturdy lead, looking to be out of the game before a team scoring effort that included scores by Wurtz, Davis and forwards Anya Covington and Jacki Gulczynski.
Covington, who finished a rebound away from a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds, provided a reliable post presence for Wisconsin that was critical to putting them in a position to take control of the Bulldogs in the second half. Senior forward Ashley Thomas aided Covington with five points, and UW finished with 18 points in the paint.
On an afternoon in which the Badgers saw nine of their 11 players score, Kelsey made it clear that she is willing to experiment with different lineups if it results in a Wisconsin win. Sunday afternoon, that paid off in the form of junior guard Tiera Stephen, who provided a much-needed spark off the bench during a stretch that got Wisconsin back into the game.
“If you don’t start, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to play. It’s who’s in at the end, not in the beginning. Tiera didn’t start, but she was in there at critical moments, and she made a huge impact.
“It’s who can get the job done, who’s proven themselves in practice, who’s put in the extra work to do the things that we need to do to help our team. … Whoever can get it done will play.”