The Badgers were all business Thursday night, as they treated their fans to a dominating performance in the first round of the NCAA Tourney.
It wasn’t all smiles for Wisconsin (17-3 Big Ten, 26-4 overall), though, as the team endured an injury scare to senior setter Lauren Carlini.
The Badgers traded points with Howard (12-0 MEAC, 26-6 overall) early on, playing to a 4-4 tie, but then junior Kelli Bates stepped to the service line and sparked a 10-point run. Along with good serving, the defense was key in the first set, as the Badgers earned three team blocks. They were also all over the floor, making 17 digs. Wisconsin kept control of the first set with its passing, putting away Howard with ease in the first set 25-11, to take a 1-0 match lead.
“I think we just did a great job right away coming in strong with our passing,” freshman Molly Haggerty said.
The domination did not carry over into the second set, with the Badgers falling behind 9-6, mainly due to the absence of senior Lauren Carlini who was subbed out to get her ankle taped up. Carlini came back into the match and instantly sparked a four-point run to regain the lead for Wisconsin. Unlike the first set, the Bison found some openings in UW's defense, but it wasn’t enough as the Badgers took a 2-0 lead, with a 25-18 second set win.
Wisconsin showed why it is the No. 3 seed with yet another dominating defensive performance in the third set. The Badgers only gave up ten points in final frame, while not allowing any consecutive points by Howard. Another good sign for the Badgers was that Carlini played the entire set and looked to be moving around fine on her ankle.
“Apparently she did something in practice early in the week, which was kind of news to me and to our training staff, she kind of re-tweaked it,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We’ll find out, but she said it was no big deal, it was just something that needed tape.”
With or without Carlini, UW will take on Washington State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the Field House Friday at 6 p.m.