The Wisconsin women’s basketball team, fresh off of an exhibition victory earlier in the week, welcomed the University of North Florida to the Kohl Center Tuesday night for the first game of the 2019-20 regular season. The Ospreys are known for giving Big Ten schools competitive non-conference tests despite the fact that they themselves are from the Atlantic Sun Conference.
This game provided no exception. After rallying to within four points of the Badgers’ lead in the second half, North Florida finally ran out of steam and the Badgers pulled away until the game ended in a 75–62 victory.
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The final tally does little to reflect the nature of the contest as the Badgers had to earn everything against a solid opponent in order to start the year 1-0. After a shaky start to the game for both teams, Wisconsin settled in and ended the opening quarter on a run that stretched the lead to six. North Florida managed to respond before the halftime buzzer, however, cutting the Badgers’ lead to four on multiple occasions via a barrage of three pointers.
Leading by an uneasy eight points at the break, things would not get any easier for the Badgers in their opening game of the season. Early in the third quarter, North Florida quickly cut the Badger lead to four once again.
Sitting with a 40–36 advantage, Wisconsin appeared to respond to the halftime message later in the third as they forced their way into the paint and shut down the Ospreys’ interior game on the opposite end.
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The Badgers were able to get a bucket close to the rim which allowed them to withstand a final flurry from North Florida. The Ospreys leading scorer, Tiffany Tolbert, posted a game high 20 points and ignited a 10–2 run during which the Badger’s double digit lead melted to just four points in the fourth quarter.
With the game suddenly hanging in the balance, Wisconsin had to step up its defensive intensity and rebounding consistency to put it out of reach. They responded well and were able to string together multiple defensive stops — each of which was coupled with points for the Badgers on the other end — to establish a point differential they could lean on as the opening contest drew to an end.
Despite the intensity of the game, Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis praised his team’s ability to remain calm and credited the Ospreys for their offensive firepower.
“I think when we were able to string those stops in a row, when we didn’t give up on plays, when in transition [North Florida] missed a couple and balls are bouncing around we were able to collect those,” Tsipis said in a statement from UW Athletics.
Kendra Van Leeuwen and Julie Pospisilova led the Badgers with 14 points apiece, with forward Abby Laszewski posting a team high 10 rebounds. Overall, game one of this long season was earmarked by timely play and reliable defense, two trends that ought to continue for the Badgers if they are to forge a route to the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin will face the Wofford Terriers at the Kohl Center on Sunday, Nov. 10. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.