Off the heels of pulling off the biggest upset of the Big Ten season against No. 12 Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (5-14, 2-14 Big Ten) was unable to split the season series against rival Minnesota (7-9, 6-8). Fans were treated to an incredible frontcourt battle between Imani Lewis and Minnesota star Kadi Sissoko, but the Golden Gophers were able to hold on to a five-point lead as the Badgers attempted a fourth-quarter comeback.
Wisconsin had moments where they looked poised to take the lead after fighting from double-digit deficits. After falling down 10 early in the second quarter, Lewis’ quick hands and footwork led an 8–0 run to bring the game within two, 22–20 Gophers.
When Golden Gopher guard Sara Scalia dropped in wing 3-pointers to end the third and start the fourth quarters, the Badgers found themselves facing another double-digit deficit. But Lewis, whose confidence could not have been higher after dominating against Ohio State, would not give up.
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With assistance from the Badgers backcourt of Sydney Hilliard and Julie Pospíšilovà, Wisconsin climbed back, but ultimately the margin set to start the fourth was too great. Lewis finished with 27 points — tying her career-high — and added 11 rebounds to boot. Hilliard and Pospíšilovà, while playing better defense than they had the first time around against the Gophers, combined for 10 turnovers and only two free-throw attempts.
In fact, the Badgers looked unprepared to shoot outside the paint all game long. Though dominant on the inside — outscoring the Gophers 44–20 — Wisconsin only shot seven 3-pointers total, with one make courtesy of Tara Stauffacher.
No Badgers outside of Hilliard and Lewis even attempted a free throw. Clearly this is not because of a lack of intention, but outside of the aforementioned duo, there doesn’t appear to be a mentality of initiating contact. Lewis has become a master of playing off of the contact of her opponents, but it rattles the cage of other players.
While Wisconsin could have been more aggressive shooting the ball, Sissoko and Scalia faced no such problem. Whenever the Badgers went on runs, Sissoko was there to attack the paint, hit some timely free throws and even bang in two 3-pointers. Sissoko started 6-for-7 from the field and finished with 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
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Scalia burned the Badgers all afternoon. Whether it be coming off of pin downs to hit shots from the outside or conducting pick-and-roll plays to set up her teammates, the Badgers had no answer for the duo.
They combined for 37 points, and while the Badgers’ two stars combined for 32, Minnesota had one thing that Wisconsin has been looking for all season — a third option. Jasmine Powell, though inefficient as she may be, provided a tertiary spark that no one on Wisconsin’s rotation could match. Her 15 points were more than that of the next four Badger minute-getters combined.
“They had that third scorer and you look across the board and that’s the difference in the game,” Head Coach Jonathan Tispis said, according to UW Athletics. “Imani [Lewis] has 27 and Syd [Hilliard] gets 15 and we don’t have another double-figure scorer. When you lose a game by five points, I think that third scorer really helped them.”
The Badgers have another chance to improve their conference record Saturday, Feb. 20, against the No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats.