In another hard fought battle against a Big Ten powerhouse, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (1-2, 0-2 Big Ten) fell at home against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-0, 1-0) by a score of 70–65 Friday night.
The famously intense press, orchestrated by Rutgers Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer, forced Wisconsin into 27 turnovers that Rutgers converted to 27 extra points and a victory. The loss marks Wisconsin’s sixth straight defeat against Rutgers, moving the all-time mark to 1-7 since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten Conference.
Badger sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard recorded her third consecutive 20-point game — netting 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting — while graduate transfer Estella Moschkau added 13 points of her own in her best shooting performance as a Badger. Junior forward Imani Lewis recorded her second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Rutgers was led by junior guard Zipporah Broughton’s 18 points and tenacious defense as the Big Ten’s 2020 scoring champion Arella Guirantes was held to 16 points and only shot 3-for-14 from the field.
While the Badgers kept the game close and led through most of the first half by dominating the boards and employing a sound half-court defense, the Rutgers’ full-court press and aggressive 1-3-1 half-court zone forced Hilliard and her running mate Julie Pospíšilovà into 20 combined turnovers. At the spearhead of Stringer’s press was senior forward Mael Gilles with Broughton and 2020 Big Ten All-Defensive Team member Tekia Mack acting as free safeties, intercepting stray passes with ease.
The Badgers flaunted a half-court zone of their own Friday evening, but the Wisconsin 2-3 was more a product of necessity than of intention. During the post-game press conference, Wisconsin Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis explained that the decision to implement a zone was a result of past success against Rutgers and depth issues stemming from COVID-19 concerns within the team, but that the team was still excited to just get the opportunity to play.
“I think today you just saw a team that was really excited to have the opportunity to play its third game of the year,” Tsipis said. “You can put all the statistics and everything aside, I’m looking at the growth component and making comparisons of not only where we were at this point last year but where we were against similar opponents.”
Though the Badgers ended the first half with a 27–26 lead, Hilliard only attempted two field goals and one free throw before the break. Hilliard went on to score 17 second-half points, continuing her hot streak on offense.
“They’re very scrappy on defense. Always in the passing lanes, always looking to pick your pocket,” Hilliard said, per UW Athletics. “But as coach said, he told me I needed to be more aggressive [in the second half] and I think it helps the team when anyone is getting downhill. I just look to be aggressive and kick it to my teammates when they’re open.”
Back-to-back losses in games that the Badgers could have won is disappointing, but the opportunity to experiment new schemes and lineups against quality opponents is invaluable.
In the final 3:30 of the game, Tsipis rolled out a lineup of Hilliard, Pospíšilovà, Moschkau, sophomore guard Tara Stauffacher and Lewis — the first “small ball” lineup that Tsipis has utilized this season. With shooting and playmaking surrounding Lewis’ post play, the Badgers were able to trim a double-digit Scarlet Knight lead to four points before Rutgers pulled away late.
The Badgers next play Sunday, Dec. 13 against North Dakota at the Kohl Center.