The talents of redshirt junior Michala Johnson are well known not just by the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, but across the Big Ten.
Michala Johnson came into Sunday’s game against Ohio State as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.1 points per game and ranked second on the team in rebounds, hauling in 7.4 per game. Sunday, however, she had a running mate in the frontcourt in junior forward Jacki Gulczynski.
Both Gulczynski and Michala Johnson were dominant, causing Ohio State headaches all day as they paced the Badgers in both scoring and rebounding in their 82-71 win over the Buckeyes.
For Gulczynski, her scoring effort started early on for UW as she had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting (2-3 three-point) in just the first half. Gulczynski scored on a layup at the 13 minute mark and would go on to score 12 of the next 16 points for the Badgers to give them a 28-17 lead.
Gulczynski credits her teammates for the ability to get her the ball, which allowed her to keep shooting lights out in the first half. She finished the game with 21 points, a game-high and tied for career-high 15 rebounds, and four blocks.
“Our teammates are great at noticing who has the hot hand,” Gulczynski said. “Often it’s Michala [Johnson], Taylor [Wurtz]. Sometimes it’s going to be me or Morgan [Paige]. It’s just team recognition of who has the hot hand. We just know who to get the ball to.”
In a much more common occurrence, Michala Johnson wrecked havoc for the opposing team down low, especially in the second half.
Getting her second foul with 11 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half, which forced her to the bench, she only managed five points and two rebounds in the first 20 minutes of play. However, things changed in the second half as she went off for 16 points and grabbed another five rebounds.
Much like Gulczynski’s run in the first half, Michala Johnson had a run of her own. Starting with an offensive rebound and put back with 15:23 remaining in the second half, Michala Johnson would proceed to score 12 of the next 16 points for the Badgers and push their lead to 67-45. She ended the night with 21 points (9-for-15 FG) and seven rebounds, despite the early foul trouble.
“My main thing coming into the second half was don’t get the third foul, don’t get in foul trouble” Michala Johnson said. “Like I said before, my points and scoring will come, so my main focus is rebounding, boxing out, just not trying to get that third foul.”
With Michala Johnson’s foul trouble in the first half, her sister, freshman Malayna Johnson, stepped up, logging eight minutes of play and scoring five points. Four of her points came from the foul-line, much to the approval of Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey.
“They were,” Kelsey said about the importance of Malayna’s minutes. “Malayna doesn’t have a whole bunch of experience, but she did get to the free-throw line. She’s tall, so she was at least able to stand and put her hands up. But some of it is she’s not a great scorer, so you lose some [scoring] when [Michala Johnson] goes out.”
Kelsey was pleased with the frontcourt play overall for UW Sunday. Gulczynski and Michala Johnson scored over half of Wisconsin’s points with 42 and accounted for 22 of the 49 rebounds. Kelsey recognized how successful the team can be when both Gulczynski and Michala Johnson are playing at such a high level. It can really open things up for Wisconsin, as evidenced Sunday. Redshirt senior Taylor Wurtz reaped the benefits of the Badgers’ inside play, scoring all 17 of her points in the second half.
“[Gulczynski] is a little bit of a mismatch,” Kelsey said. “So when they put a big on her, we’re just going to throw it back out. They put a little one on her, we’re just going to post up, and that gives [Johnson] a break. She doesn’t have to try and do it all by herself in there.”
For Michala Johnson and Gulczynski, Sunday’s game was a continuation of the success they have found over the past few games. In her last two games, Michala Johnson has scored 26 and 21 points respectively, and with Sunday’s performance, she now has reached the 20-point mark nine times this season. Gulczynski remains dominant on the boards, and with her 15 rebound day Sunday, she now has 10-plus rebounds in five games this season.
It hasn’t happened in every game this season, but if the Badgers can have outputs from Michala Johnson and Gulczynski like they did Sunday, they can play like one of the best teams in the Big Ten. But for now, Kelsey and the rest of the Badgers, are just happy the frontcourt’s effort helped end their four game losing streak.