Sunday’s Senior Day ceremonies following the Badgers’ women’s basketball game against Northwestern were bittersweet for the three seniors who dressed in cardinal and white at the Kohl Center for the final time in their collegiate basketball careers.
Seniors Morgan Paige, Taylor Wurtz, and Daria Kryuchkova received their framed Wisconsin jerseys and saw a video tribute about their careers with their family by their sides, but not after a heartbreaking 77-73 loss in overtime to Northwestern.
Wurtz, who came into the game leading the Badgers in rebounding and second in points, recorded her ninth double-double of the season. The fifth-year senior had team-highs in points, 18, and rebounds, 12, in her final appearance at the Kohl Center.
But it was what didn’t happen that Wurtz and the rest of the Badgers may remember about Senior Day. With 11 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 68, Wurtz grabbed a Northwestern miss and went down the court hoping to be the hero in front of the 4,191 fans that were at the Kohl Center. Wurtz crossed over her defender at the free throw line and pulled up for the game-winning shot, but the ball bounced off the rim twice and missed. The shot was one that Paige and Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey knew Wurtz could make consistently and both were surprised that it didn’t fall.
“Oh I thought it was in, honestly,” Paige said. “I saw [Wurtz] come down the left side, and I was like she’s going to come back towards the middle, she’s going to pull up, she had it. It sat on that rim for the longest…in practice she makes that shot. That’s a layup for her. I would let her shoot that every single time.”
“It would have been fitting for Taylor to have hit that jumper,” Kelsey said. “I started to call timeout but I’m like no, she’s got it, just let her go. It’s senior night, just let her go out on a white horse. And it was right there. If she had 10 more, she’d make 10 of them. So it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Paige had a strong performance of her own on senior night. She finished with 16 points, three assists and two rebounds, and knocked home all eight of her free throw attempts. Her aggressiveness was crucial in the Badgers battling back from a 10-point deficit in the second half. Paige scored six points during a 20-5 run that gave UW the lead at 57-52 with just more than nine minutes remaining. But as one may guess, the final outcome of the game was a damper on Senior Day for Paige.
“It was good to see the ball go in the rim,” Paige said. “I was just trying to be aggressive for our team and keep us in it. But it’s not as great when a ‘W’ doesn’t come with it. So it’s one of those things where it’s bittersweet.”
Kryuchokova made her only start of her Badger career on Sunday, playing the first four minutes of the game. Originally from Moscow, Russia, the 6-foot-2 senior has just five points on the season in 12 minutes of action.
“She knew what she was getting when she came here,” Kelsey said. “She really is the epitome of knowing her role. But she understood what her team needed and she didn’t give me grief about it and you love that…I’ll miss her.”
Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown had high praise for the Badger senior duo of Paige and Wurtz. Having recruited Wurtz to play at Northwestern while she was in high school, McKeown has had the chance to coach against and watch Paige and Wurtz over the last five seasons. McKeown even went as far as to compare Paige to one of the best shooters in the NBA.
“[Paige and Wurtz] both had great careers,” McKeown said. “First-class young ladies, and just watching them over the last couple of years I remember Paige looked like Stephen Curry. Just making everything. Their demeanor, the way they carry themselves, they seem like players that you want to coach.”
Kelsey went on to say she’ll miss the toughness of Paige and the work ethic of Wurtz as their Badger careers come to a close. Although it was the last game at the Kohl Center for the seniors, it isn’t their last of the season. Kelsey, the seniors, and the rest of the Badgers women’s basketball team have the chance to prove to the Big Ten that they can play with anyone, as the Big Ten conference tournament begins Thursday.
“When you’re down in the dumps and not winning games, it’s easy to quit,” Kelsey said. “But they just don’t quit, they just keep fighting. But there’s a tournament, and there’s another opportunity, one more guaranteed opportunity and if you get that you keep going until you don’t have anymore. You just have to keep pressing forward.”
And pressing forward is what this senior class of Paige, Wurtz and Kryuchokova has been known to do. It’s a notion they will hope to carry over from Senior Day, and into postseason play starting on Thursday.