In a game where both the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (3-4, 0-4 Big Ten) and the No. 16 Michigan women’s basketball team (7-0, 2-0 Big Ten) had at least 10 days between their last games, only the Badgers showed signs of rust, falling to the Wolverines in a lopsided New Years Eve matchup, 92-49

The Badgers struggled mightily against 16th ranked Michigan and the wide margin of victory for the Wolverines shows it. The 43 points that separated the two teams marks the program’s worst loss since falling to Maryland by 49 points in February of 2017.

The Badgers saw yet another aggressive Big Ten defense. But whereas the famous C. Vivian Stringer zone of Rutgers and the trapping zone of Iowa were solvable, Michigan’s intense man defense swarmed the paint on drives and post touches while staying physical on the perimeter.

The effects of this defense were obvious. Sydney Hilliard, who had been scorching the hardwood averaging 23 points and 4.8 assists on an absurd 63% from the field, finally came back down to earth scoring nine points on 4/12 shooting. 

In fact, the Badger starters only made 13 total field goals in the game and the triumvirate of Hilliard, Imani Lewis and Julie Pospíšilovà combined to shoot 8/28 — by far their worst combined performance of the season.

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Following a 19-3 run in the opening quarter of the game by the Wolverines, the Badgers were never able to impose their identity on their opposition as they had done against Valparaiso on Dec. 20. Wisconsin was outrebounded for the first time this season, and as a result, had their lowest amount of second-chance points with a meager three. 

On top of being outrebounded by 21, the Badgers gave up 50 paint points as Michigan’s Leigha Brown and Naz Hillmon almost outscored the entire Badgers team, combining for 48 points. 

The tape for this game should be added to the list of things left behind in 2020. Nothing thus far has suggested that this game is anything more than an anomaly. The Badgers’ past two losses have come by a combined 12 points, and while the Badgers hadn’t yet faced an opponent on the same level as Michigan, such large margins aren’t to be expected in the future.

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But, a good gut punch might just be what the Badgers needed before entering the thick of conference play. The Big Ten has six ranked teams — No. 14 Maryland, No. 15 Northwestern, No. 16 Michigan, No. 17 Ohio State, No. 20 Indiana and No. 25 Michigan State — and being reminded of just how physically and technically demanding this conference is can be an important lesson for a Wisconsin team looking to push for postseason play.

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Among the scarce positives was the return of Halle Douglass and Brooke Schramek to the rotation. The extended break between the Valparaiso game and this matchup allowed the team to get to full strength. Having the pair of freshmen back bolsters the Badger’s depth at the guard spot and relieves some pressure from Hilliard and Pospíšilovà to create for themselves and others.