The Wisconsin women’s basketball team knew it was facing one of the best defenses in the Big Ten Wednesday when it squared off against cross-state rival, Minnesota. The Golden Gophers brought their stifling defense to the Kohl Center and held the Badgers to 33.3 percent shooting on the night (20-for-60) en route to a 63-50 victory.
Wisconsin (10-14 overall, 3-9 Big Ten) could not figure out Minnesota’s defense throughout the game, as the Gophers (16-9, 5-6) employed a mixture of zones and double-teams to stop the Badgers.
Minnesota came into Wednesday’s game allowing only an average of 62.6 points per game and a shooting percentage of 34.6 percent from the floor, both good for second lowest in the Big Ten.
The zone defenses, double and even triple-teams put on by Gopher head coach Pam Borton, made Badger junior forward Michala Johnson nearly a non-factor throughout the game.
Johnson came into Wednesday’s game averaging a team-high of 16.9 points per game but was held to just six points on the night. Her first points didn’t come until early in the second half, and she was just 2-of-7 from the floor on the night.
“I think it’s just making them take low percentage shots,” Borton said. “Inside, Johnson, she’s a great player. She can go one-on-one with anybody and she can score a lot of points. I think with us mixing up defenses with our zones really prohibited her from taking a lot of shots and being very effective inside. So I thought our zone did a great job. We forced them to take outside shots and low percentage shots. We did a much better job in the second half not giving them second shots.
“I know in the first half when [Johnson] caught it, [Minnesota] had three people on her,” Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “I know for her, it’s hard to score with three folks. But I knew that was going to happen. She knew that was going to happen every time. They’re not just going to let her have 20 points in the game. So that’s why we were getting some open shots because they were collapsing in on her and she would kick it out.”
Forcing the Badgers to take outside shots boded well for the Gophers, as once again they rank second in the Big Ten in a defensive category, this time being three-point percentage defense. The Gophers hold opposing teams to just 29.5 percent from beyond the arc, and they held Wisconsin to just 28.6 percent, 6-for-21, for the game.
Despite Minnesota’s defensive effort, Kelsey was still pleased with the looks her team received; they just couldn’t knock them down.
“We had open looks,” Kelsey said. “That’s what you run the offense to get, open shots. I can see several of them in my head right now. We missed some lay-ups, some open threes, but the shots are there. You just have to knock them down.”
Although Minnesota forced Wisconsin to commit 15 turnovers, 13 of those came in the first half. The forced turnovers went a long way in holding Wisconsin to just 16 first-half points, its eighth lowest point total for a half in program history. The Badgers didn’t hit the double-digit mark until five minutes, 39 seconds were left in the first half and went on a six-plus minute scoring drought earlier in the half. Minnesota’s preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection, Rachel Banham, led the Gophers with three steals on the night. The Gophers finished with nine steals for the game, their second-highest total on the season.
Despite the high turnover total, especially in the first half, Badger guard Dakota Whyte felt they were self-inflicted turnovers, something the Badgers will need to correct as Big Ten play enters its final stages. Wisconsin ranks dead last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at negative three.
“Most of our turnovers were mainly ourselves just making bad passes,” Whyte said. “I don’t think that they did anything special. I think that we can handle any defense pretty good. But most of our turnovers we’ve had this season have been our own turnovers.”