No. 2 seed Wisconsin defeated Illinois 2-0 Wednesday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in West Lafayette, Indiana.
It may have just been the opening round, but this is the first time the Badgers have won a game in the conference tournament since 2005. It moves Wisconsin one step closer to a title, as the team is now just two victories away from capturing the crown, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since that 2005 campaign.
As expected, the Wisconsin seniors stepped up on the big stage. Redshirt senior forward Kodee Williams opened up the scoring in the 25th minute. Williams received the ball from junior midfielder Kinley McNicoll at midfield, beat a defender and put one past the Illini keeper.
Six minutes later, senior forward Cara Walls scored an unassisted goal, her team-leading 12th of the year and her first since she netted two against Minnesota Oct. 18th.
After this flurry of offense, the Badgers never looked back. Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Genevieve Richard earned yet another shutout, giving her 13 on the season. Wisconsin compiled a strong defensive effort, shutting down Big Ten Forward of the Year, Jannelle Flaws, who only mustered two shots on goal. Illinois got off 12 total shots but only four of those were on goal, a testament to the Badgers’ stingy defense.
“I was proud,” said head coach Paula Wilkins of the team’s performance. “I think Illinois had a gameplan and our players were able to figure it out. I’m really proud of them for that.”
Wisconsin moves on to the semifinals of the tournament where they will take on rival Minnesota. The No. 6-seed Golden Gophers pulled out an upset against the No. 3-seed Michigan, defeating the Wolverines by a score of 1-0 in double overtime.
Wisconsin was the only higher seed that won in the opening round. In addition to Michigan, conference champion Penn State was stunned by No. 8 seed Northwestern and No. 4 seed Rutgers fell to No. 5 seed Iowa.
With the powerhouses knocked out, the road seems to be paved for a Wisconsin championship. The Badgers are certainly the best team remaining on paper, but Wisconsin will without a doubt have to earn the title.
The last time Wisconsin and Minnesota played, the Badgers turned in one of the most complete efforts of the season, winning 4-1. Minnesota will come into this contest with more confidence after upsetting Michigan, but the Badgers are also riding a seven-game unbeaten streak.
The semifinal matchup between the two rivals kicks off at 2 p.m. Friday, with the other semifinal between Iowa and Northwestern at 11 a.m.
UWbadgers.com contributed to this report.