In their first true test of the 2020-21 season, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (1-1, 0-1 Big Ten) fell 85–78 on the road to Iowa (3-0, 1-0) in the first Big Ten game of the year.
A tightly contested battle throughout, the Hawkeyes combined suffocating defense with a barrage from deep to widen the gap in the fourth quarter as the Badgers struggled to take care of the ball.
The loss marked Wisconsin’s 23rd consecutive loss to the Hawkeyes.
In the loss, Badger sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard set a new career-high in points with 26 — beating her previous mark of 24 points set against Western Illinois Nov. 29. Hilliard also added nine rebounds and six assists on 65% shooting while junior forward Imani Lewis contributed her first double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
As the teams traded buckets throughout the first eight minutes of the game, it was Iowa who would swing the first haymaker of the game, a 17–6 run stretching between the end of the first and the start of the second quarter.
The Badgers fought back, however, closing the half on a 14–5 run of their own, capped off by an Estella Moschkau bomb at the buzzer. Hilliard scored or assisted on nine of those 14 points, the other five of which were free throws.
After trading blows for much of the third quarter, a 3-point onslaught from the Hawkeyes and sloppy offense from the Badgers put the game out of reach. When Iowa switched to a zone defense, their lead ballooned to 19 as a 9–0 Hawkeye run coincided with four straight Wisconsin turnovers.
The Badgers fought hard to turn a 19-point deficit to just a seven-point loss, and the game shows how much this Badger team has improved from last year, where they lost 97–71 in Iowa City. The Badgers dominated the boards 49–33 and were aggressive in the paint, outscoring the Hawkeyes by eight at the charity stripe.
Hilliard was a consistent threat as a scorer and playmaker from the point guard position. Wisconsin junior forward Imani Lewis led the fourth-quarter comeback attempt that secured a respectable final score. Badger forward Kate Thompson brought defensive security while Julie Pospíšilovà’s quick thinking turned strong defensive rebounds into instant offense.
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Newcomers like Moschkau, Brooke Schramek and Halle Douglass — who made her Badger debut after missing the Wisconsin home opener due to injury — provided playmaking options behind Hilliard. All three were especially valuable in Wisconsin’s first-half run to bring the game to within five.
But Wisconsin suffered from poor 3-point shooting at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Badgers went 4-for-21 from 3-point range while Iowa ripped off 11 from beyond the arc. The Hawkeyes created 23 points off 17 Wisconsin turnovers. Iowa played with cohesion and composure that only comes with time and repetition against top competition.
There is no such thing as a moral victory, but a single-digit road loss to a team that finished third in the Big Ten a season ago is a sign of massive improvement for a Wisconsin team hoping to reach the postseason for the first time in a decade. Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis can take away a lot from this loss.
While Wisconsin was enjoying their 11–0 run toward the end of the first half, Tsipis deployed a lineup featuring two freshmen that broke down Iowa’s perimeter defense.
The lineup of Schramek-Pospíšilovà-Douglass-Hilliard-Thompson gives Hilliard all the space she needs to create. With pace and defensive presence, this lineup gave the Badgers the burst of energy they needed to stage a comeback attempt.
Wisconsin was set to play Prairie View A&M Dec. 8, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within A&M’s program. Instead, the Badgers will return to the Kohl Center and continue conference play against Rutgers Dec. 11.