For just the second time all season, and the first against a conference foe, the Badgers (5-4 Big Ten, 15-5 overall) dropped a game at the Kohl Center, falling to the Penn State Nittany Lions 54-43 Thursday night.
Riding a four-game winning streak, Wisconsin led early in the game, jumping out to a 4-2 lead three minutes in, but could never do better than pull even with Penn State for the rest of the game.
Both teams came out strong on defense but shot poorly. Wisconsin trailed by just three points at halftime, 21-18, but shot under 26 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, Penn State began similarly cold, also shooting under 30 percent in the first half. However, four 3-point field goals by the Nittany Lions in the first period were enough to maintain a lead that stretched over the remainder of the game.
""Offensively, we sputtered,"" head coach Lisa Stone said. ""Although we only had 10 turnovers, we had poor shot selection, and that ended up resulting in a poor [field goal] percentage.""
Wisconsin came out of the locker room for the second half poised and tied the game on multiple occasions. Both teams remained tough on defense, but the Badgers were unable to capitalize on Penn State turnovers and struggled to convert from the line.
Penn State also used full court pressure, which forced Wisconsin into short shot clock situations and poor shooting.
Junior guard Alyssa Karel finished the game as the leading scorer for the Badgers with 15 points, while senior guard Rae Lin D'Alie dominated the boards for Wisconsin with eight rebounds on the night.
Freshman guard Taylor Wurtz, who has been awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors the past two weeks, played just 19 minutes, scoring five points.
Meanwhile, Penn State began to heat up offensively in the second half. Most notably, the league's second leading scorer, Tyra Grant, who was held scoreless in the first half, exploded offensively down the stretch. Wisconsin continued to apply tough pressure against the Penn State senior guard, but Grant repeatedly sunk remarkable off-balance shots, which kept the Badgers from making the game too close.
""Tyra Grant's a great player. Great players make great plays,"" said senior guard Teah Gant. ""I thought I played pretty good defense against her and that's all I can do.""
With just over two minutes left in the game and the Badgers down by only five, junior forward Lin Zastrow drove hard to the basket, sinking the shot as a foul was called.
However, the officials called the foul on Zastrow, and the basket was negated. With a made free throw, Wisconsin would have trailed by just two. Instead, the call proved to be a crucial turning point in the game and the last gasp for the Badgers.
""I liked the aggressiveness. Whether it was a foul or not, I'm not sure,"" said Stone. ""But the game doesn't come down to one play. We needed to have more urgency from the start of the game, and we were a little flat tonight.""