As Wisconsin women’s basketball head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s glasses slipped out of her hand and flew into the stands, the lead and the game were almost lost along with them. Luckily, after Kelsey received a technical foul on that play with a little more than a minute remaining – the Badgers recovered and were able to stave off a last second three-point attempt to defeat their in-state rivals Marquette 71-68.
Wisconsin (5-3) found itself up by 15 early in the game, but Marquette (4-3) utilized gritty defensive play and hot shooting to diminish the Badger’s lead. However, Arlesia Morse’s 30-foot three-point attempt fell well short at the buzzer, and Wisconsin held on for a hard-earned win – and an important one according to Kelsey.
“This is so important for our team because we can build on this,” Kelsey said. “You got to win some of these games to build on them; it’s not good to say we tried hard, we lost. You got to win them.”
The big story in the game for the Badgers was the absence of senior guard Taylor Wurtz and freshman guard Dakota Whyte, forcing Wisconsin to go with a six person rotation for almost the entire game. Wurtz was out for the third straight game with a back injury, and Whyte sat out as a precautionary measure because of a sore knee. All five starters logged more than 34 minutes in the game, with sophomore forward AnnMarie Brown the only other playing seeing significant time at 17 minutes of total play.
Despite their lack of depth, Wisconsin started the game fast and looked ready to run away with the game early. After Marquette scored the first basket of the game, the Badgers went off on a 15-0 run and proceeded to sink five threes to hold their biggest lead at 21-6.
After the game Golden Eagle head coach Terri Mitchell commented on the Badgers’ fast start, along with the atmosphere of the game when Marquette made the game close again.
“I give Wisconsin a lot of credit for the way they jumped all over us to start the game. The eight threes they had in the first half, they got in a rhythm, and once we settled and responded it was a chess match,” Terri Mitchell. It was a lot of fun to coach; it’s a lot more fun when you win, but I don’t walk out of here wondering about the hearts of my team.”
Allowing the Golden Eagles back into the game was some sloppy play by the Badgers, and a scary moment for Wisconsin. On a fast break, Wisconsin junior forward Cassie Rochel went up for a layup, and following a miss, she landed awkwardly on one of her knees. After a made basket by Marquette, Rochel was tended to by the medical staff and made her way gingerly off the court.
Rochel returned to the bench following several minutes in the locker room, and she then appeared back in the game, but in her time gone, the damage was done. Marquette’s 18-2 run came at this point, and Marquette took the lead 24-23. But Wisconsin kept Marquette at bay and promptly took the lead back, with the help of a Nicole Bauman, who came up big for the Badgers, totaling a career high 16 points.
Even though Marquette took the lead briefly, as Rochel left the court with her injury, she had confidence in her teammates’ ability.
“I think it was more of just shock than anything. My knee buckled when I went up for a layup but walking out of the gym I had no worries,” Rochel said. “The freshmen [and bench players] are ready to step up at any time, and they know that whether I go down or any of the guards go down, the players on the bench are ready to step up whenever they are called upon.”
There were few players on the bench to call on in this game, but the players that were called on stepped up to the task. Rochel recorded 10 points, sophomore forward Jacki Gulczynski had 14 and junior guard Morgan Paige had 19 to pace the Badgers.
When the Badgers needed it the most up only three with 1:38 remaining, Gulczynski hit a cold-blooded three pointer from the top of the arc, to give the Badgers some breathing room. Following two technical foul free-throws and subsequent three-pointer by Marquette, Wisconsin’s lead was cut to one, but Bauman sank two free-throws with 14 seconds left to secure the Badger win.
“Even us being young and inexperienced, it was really, really encouraging to see us being together and really fighting through to get this win,” Paige said.