Despite remaining competitive for most of the first half, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (3-10, 0-10 Big Ten) dropped its 10th straight conference game of the season, this time to the Spartans of Michigan State (9-2, 4-2 Big Ten) in a 94-62 blowout.
The Badgers got within four points midway through the third quarter before MSU, who had not competed in a game for over two weeks because of a confirmed COVID-19 case within the program, outscored the Badgers 47-19 in the final 15 minutes of the game.
This has been a grueling season for the Badgers, but even in their most recent losses there were signs of hope that their first win was on the way. The nine point loss against (then) ninth-ranked Maryland showed the team that they can hang with anyone. The Badgers ran with that defensive identity and came within a so-so call of capturing an elusive first Big Ten win.
But any moral victory associated with these hard-nosed performances was lost in the second half against the Spartans. The simplicity with which MSU was able to swing the ball around the perimeter nullified any potential to get easy buckets in transition or form any kind of threatening run to get the game even, heading into the fourth.
“Each of the last two games we were down either four or five and responded really well with really strong third quarters,” Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis said in a postgame press conference. “Tonight we didn’t do that.”
“[In the first half] We were doing the little things,” sophomore Sydney Hilliard added. “I think we just did a good job rebounding, in the second half we slipped away from our habits, letting them get second chance opportunities and letting their aggressiveness come to us whether it was on offense or on defense. We need to be the aggressor coming into that second half.”
The Badger offense had been extremely creative during the first 20 minutes. Freshman Halle Douglass’s vision in transition got the Badgers good looks on the fast break and in the half court while junior Imani Lewis (17 points, 12 rebounds) had the jump shot going early.
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Hilliard (15 points, five assists) was her typical aggressive self, providing a good contrast to backcourt mate Julie Pospíšilovà (seven points, five assists). Pospíšilovà recovered from a sloppy start — three turnovers in the first three minutes of the game — and found her rhythm in the half court, consistently finding the Badger bigs in space for easy layups and bunny jumpers.
This offense, which had been so direct and intentional in the first half, couldn’t hit the ocean from a boat in the second half, hitting just 26% of their field goals in the final two frames of the game. This lackluster effort transitioned to the defensive end, where the Badgers only forced five turnovers the entire game.
“In the first half Michigan State came up with every 50/50 basketball,” Tsipis said. “Now they have you at an advantage.”
The positives were few and far between, but in the middle of the third quarter Lewis hit a milestone only 26 Badgers before her had hit. With a transition layup off of a Pospíšilovà assist, Lewis had scored her 1000th point as a Badger.
“I’m very proud of her,” Hilliard said. “All the hard work is starting to show for her. She’s a very good leader for us and I’m very happy for her.”
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“I’m a chill person, I’m laid back, so I don’t really look at it as a huge accomplishment,” Lewis said with a wry smile on her face. “I just thank God that I was able to make it this far…. There was one time where I couldn’t see a career in basketball because of my health…I’m thankful, I’m blessed but to me it’s not really 1000 points without the win.”
Wisconsin has nine regular season games remaining, with four against ranked opposition. Now is the time for the Badgers to solidify an identity and build momentum before entering the inevitable bloodbath the Big Ten tournament promises to be.
Wisconsin will try again for their first conference win of the season Jan. 28 against Nebraska.