From the get go, the shots started falling, and they didn’t stop.
From the beginning of the game, Wisconsin and Marquette proved the crowd of 3,300-plus they were in for an offensive shootout. The hopes of a shootout died at the halftime horn, however, but a hearty battle ensued until the final seconds finally ticked away with Wisconsin triumphing 71-68.
The game began with a Marquette tip-in on their first possession before Wisconsin started to provide the scoring. The Badgers made their first eight shots from the field, building a 21-6 lead off multiple three-pointers from junior Morgan Paige and freshman Nicole Bauman.
Playing 34 minutes, the highest single-game total of her young career, Bauman tallied 16 points, her second-consecutive game with a career-high total. As she keeps progressing, head coach Bobbie Kelsey keeps raising the bar for Bauman.
“I told [Nicole], ‘Hey you can’t be a freshman, your freshman year is over. That was over four games ago. You’ve got to be a sophomore now,'” Kelsey said. “She stepped up big with Dakota [Whyte] being out.”
Fellow freshman Whyte was sidelined with a left leg injury, essentially limiting the Badgers to a seven-player rotation. Bauman almost had no choice but to contribute.
As the Badgers first half run finally sizzled, it was finally Marquette’s turn.
Bauman followed up her pair of three-pointers with a pair of turnovers as the momentum swung back into the Golden Eagles’ favor. When junior forward Cassie Rochel went down with a temporary leg injury, down too went Wisconsin’s chances of holding the large lead they had built.
Marquette stormed back into the lead with 18-2 run on 8-of-11 shooting and six Wisconsin turnovers.
As if the momentum of the game depended on Rochel’s status, the Badgers took some back as Rochel returned just minutes later for the remainder of the game. The Badgers would regain the lead and hold it for much of the game before the end of the matchup saw a defensive battle arise.
The teams combined for 56 percent shooting in the first half, but cooled off to just 34 percent in the second frame.
As the teams alternated baskets and leads, Wisconsin found itself in a familiar location. This season, against Gonzaga, Washington and Virginia Tech, Wisconsin had blown second half leads in the most tense of situations.
The Badger’s slew of guards outperformed Marquette’s front court in the final seven minutes to help finish off their fifth victory of the season.
Tiera Stephen, Bauman and Paige each picked off Marquette passes during the closing stretch. Cassie Rochel even chipped in a pair of rebounds and forced three separate jump balls, helping Wisconsin retain possession twice.
“Today was more of a grind, this was more of a battle to win this game,” Paige said before describing the importance of finally winning a close game. “They’re learning experiences and this game is obviously an example of that. We can take that as a step forward every time. It’s a good thing, it’s a great feeling to get this win.”
With a depleted roster, the Badgers have been getting many impressive performances from previously unexpected players, much like Bauman has been doing.
Jacki Gulczynski also helped fill the void by scoring a career-high 14 points. After Rochel went down with an injury, Wisconsin needed another player to step up.
“Walking out of the gym, I had no worries,” Rochel said. “Whether I go down or anyone goes down, the players on the bench have to step it up.”
Although she is commonly a starter, Gulczynski matched her highest total of minutes on the season with 34. But her biggest contribution didn’t come in her time spent on the floor, but rather her timely shooting that helped Wisconsin in the end.
The sophomore guard hit three key shots from the perimeter, eventually proving the difference for the Badgers.
The first came at the peak of Wisconsin’s first half run, with the final dagger coming with just less than two minutes remaining in a three-point game. Gulczynski found herself open beyond the arc and buried the three to put Wisconsin up six, a lead they would never surrender.
“She had eight points at halftime, I said, ‘Jackie, you have got to help us,'” Kelsey said. “That three, I was going out of my mind, ‘Please Lord, go in.'”
It did and Wisconsin tacked on the necessary free throws to finish out the bout.
Bauman, the guard who started all the scoring, finished with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining to ice the game. Her coach was rather pleased after the game.
“I’m so proud of their effort and energy,” Kelsey said. “Nicole hit big free throws. To be a freshman out there, she was looking like a sophomore.”