Facing a 22-point deficit coming into the second half, the Badgers showed no signs of life, as North Carolina put on a clinic of a first half, doing damage on both sides of the floor. Then, the Badgers came out and played like they wanted to win, and looked like they could put together a sound half of basketball to steal a victory.
“You break a game into two halves,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “I felt like our team is what you saw in the second half, from an effort and ability to compete.”
While the Badgers (2-6) dropped their Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup at the Kohl Center against UNC (6-1), the tale of two halves told a much different story.
The first 20 minutes of action saw the Tar Heels not only outplay the Badgers in every measurable category, but bring more attention to execution and awareness that guided them to a big lead early. That awareness and execution was apparent from the game’s opening tip, when redshirt senior forward Avyanna Young controlled the jumpball for the Badgers, yet it was North Carolina that ended up with possession.
Jamie Cherry would then give UNC a lead it would not look back from. The Tar Heels made the game theirs, with Wisconsin often caught out of position in the paint, or forced to run down yet another UNC fast break.
“I think in the first half … when you don’t play defense with great activity and effort, you end up on your heels a lot,” said Tsipis. “North Carolina came out and went right at us and put us on our heels even at the tip.”
Coming into the second half, with Wisconsin trailing by more than 20 points and in every statistical category, the game––and the Badgers––looked done. Then, Tsipis and his young team went to work in the face of defeat.
The Tar Heels went on a five-minute scoring drought in the third quarter that hindered the offensive momentum they had established in the previous half. Wisconsin held UNC––which shot a 56 percent clip in the opening period––to a dismal 21.1 percent performance in quarter three, and 29.3 percent for the entire second half.
“We were plus-13 on the glass in the second half, we only turned it over three times, we gave ourselves a chance to get back into the game,” said Tsipis. “A lot of that was our kids and trying to challenge them at halftime and they took it upon themselves.”
Young thrust herself into the thick of Wisconsin’s game plan on both sides of the ball, consuming 12 boards on the night, to go along with 12 points, en route to her third double-double on the season. Her 10-point, seven-rebound effort in the second half was key to the Badgers’ comeback effort.
“I just have to stay consistent with [rebounding],” said Young. “We have to stay on the boards, that’s what we’re good at doing.”
Freshman guard Suzanne Gilreath—who was in the midst of a season-long 3-point drought—finally sank three of her 3-point shots, ending her night with 11 points. This game could be the spark the young guard needs to jump-start her season, as she entered with one lone point on the year, and carved out a healthy 21 minutes, more than doubling her career-high.
“I’m really proud of Suzanne Gilreath. Because coming into this game, shots had not gone in, and she’s undeterred,” said Tsipis.
“I get in the gym a lot, so just being ready and having enough confidence in the moment of going in off the bench, just being ready when my name is called [to contribute],” added Gilreath.
The Badgers will need their second half from tonight to be replicated for full-game stretches––not halves––if they want to have any chance to salvage a .500 record going into the trials of Big Ten play.