MADISON – Wisconsin women’s basketball coach Marisa Moseley issued a challenge to her team after its blowout loss to Northwestern last week and after a slow start Sunday the Badgers answered the call.
UW trailed by 17 in the second quarter and by 14 at the half before a super-charged second half that led to a 69-64 victory over Penn State front of 4,519 at the Kohl Center. It was the Badgers’ biggest comeback victory of the season and a much-needed outcome for a team that lost by 24 points to Northwestern last Sunday.
“What we talked about after our last loss was that we have a decision to make…,” Moseley said. “It’s really cool to see them really decide to go this direction and really take charge, You’re in charge of your own destiny in the way that you play. It was really cool to see them take another step towards that this afternoon.”
The Badgers (11-11, 4-8 Big Ten) locked down defensively, received another big-time performance from sophomore Serah Williams and turned off the faucet of turnovers that played such a large role in the team’s slow start.
The result was Wisconsin’s most impressive win of the season. Penn State (16-8, 7-6) entered play tied for fourth in the Big Ten with four of its wins over teams that beat the Badgers this season.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 69, Penn State 64
Williams, the team’s 6-foot-4 sophomore forward, extended her streak of double-doubles to nine straight. Her 31 points and 15 rebounds each tied her career highs. She also blocked three shots and had four steals.
No other Badger scored in double figures, but there were some quality stat lines.
Sophomore guard Ronnie Porter: eight points, five assists, five steals; senior guard Natalie Leuzinger: seven points, three assists, zero turnovers; senior Halle Douglass: eight points on 3-for-3 shooting and six rebounds; and sophomore Sania Copeland: six points, five assists, four steals.
Defensively the Badgers held Penn State to 16.7% (2-for-12) shooting in the third quarter and 29.7% for the second half. After a scoring 40 points in the first half, the Nittany Lions took almost 15 minutes to score 10 during the second half.
Penn State’s inability to score also provided it fewer chances to set up its press, which played a big role in the Nittany Lions’ 21 fast break points. And even when the press was on UW handled it much better during the final 20 minutes.
Graduate student Ashley Owusu, a 6-0 guard, had 24 points for Penn State, 16 in the first half. Junior guard Leilani Kapinus, a graduate of Madison Memorial High School, finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The effort of those players and their teammates wasn’t a match for UW resolve on this day.
“The past few games we’ve been down a lot, but we learned from those games and then kind of forget about them,” Leuzinger said. “This was a whole new game, especially in the second half.”
Here is a look at how the Badgers scored the comeback.
Fast start to second half allows UW to cut into deficit quickly
Wisconsin trailed, 40-26, at the half but scored 13 points during the first 4 minutes of the second half to get the deficit down to three points. For the sake of comparison, the Badgers managed 12 points in the first quarter and 14 in the second.
The Badgers had come all the way back by the 4:46 mark of the quarter when they grabbed their first lead of the night, 43-42, on a layup by Williams that came off a Porter steal.
The beginning of the first half was a 180-degree turn from the start of the game when Penn State hit its first seven shots and led by 11 points after 3 ½ minutes.
“Just being able to come out like that it just shows that we’re capable of doing that in any situation like that during the game,” Leuzinger said. “It just not only brings a lot of momentum for this game but for the next couple of games we have.”
Serah Williams’ dominance showed in the second half
Williams’ stat line from the second half was impressiver: 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting with nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals. She also didn’t turn the ball over in the second half after having four in the first half, an improvement she credited to better communication in the second half.
Her production was consistent throughout the second half. She had 11 points and hit five of six shots in the third quarter. In the fourth, she had 12 points and went 3 for 3 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
Her ninth double-double moved her out of a tie for the all-time mark by Milwaukee native Theresa Huff, who set the mark during the 1982-83 season.
“I was just trying to play my game and be consistent with how I play all season,” Williams said. “I know if I just bring that intensity I can help my team the best way I can. … I didn’t really catch the ball in the paint today. It was just running and trusting my teammates to get me the ball where I could (make a move).”
Wisconsin did the job defensively down the stretch
Wisconsin went from trailing by 17 to leading by eight, 55-47, with 8 minutes left. Penn State, however, was due for a run and it came through with 10-2 spurt to tie the game with 3:20 to play. The game was also tied at 60 with 2:54 to go.
The Badgers closed the game with stops on five of their final seven defensive possessions. Four of those stops came when it was a one-possession game.
UW also went 7 for 7 from the line with freshman D’Yanis Jimenez giving her team its final margin of victory with two free throws with 3 seconds left.
“I wrote on the board before the game the word relentless and in my pre-game speech I told our team in order to win this game we have to be relentless,” Moseley said. “Relentless in the way we pursue the ball. Relentless in how we play defense, taking care of the ball. Every loose ball, every hustle play had to be ours … I couldn’t be more proud of the complete team effort. It really did take the entire group.”