The Badgers came into Green Bay with wins against Butler (3-7), Tennessee State (3-5), Illinois State (3-6) and Mississippi Valley State (3-5), while UWGB had gone 8-1 up to that night, with the one loss coming at the hands of the No. 2 team in the country, Notre Dame.
But, the Badgers (5-8) pulled off their first quality win Thursday night in Green Bay, as the Phoenix (8-2) were stunned in the final minute in front of their home crowd.
Head coach Jonathan Tsipis and his Wisconsin team entered the second half down 25-19, and that deficit increased to nine with 5:19 left in the second quarter. But the Badgers never backed down in front of a packed Kress Center crowd, and hung with the Phoenix to make sure Green Bay never ran up a lead too insurmountable. When the time came, freshman guard Suzanne Gilreath burst onto the scene to fuel the Badger offense and put the game in reach.
Gilreath entered the second half shooting 1-of-6 on field goals, and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc––a key area the Badger offense desperately needs. Then the guard caught fire, shooting a blistering 4-for-7 on three pointers coming into the final minute. With the Badgers down four and desperate for a bucket, the freshman stepped up in crunch time, as she downed her fifth three of the game with 47 seconds left to pull Wisconsin within one.
“I think it was everything, they got the crowd back in the game at the end after we got the momentum swung. Suzanne Gilreath obviously hits a giant three for us and what can you say?” said Tsipis to UWBadgers.com.
After a missed three-pointer by the Phoenix, the Badgers corralled the rebound to set up a possible game-winning situation. It was freshman guard Kendra Van Leeuwen who found redshirt junior Malayna Johnson––who has started the last three games due to senior forward Avyanna Young’s suspension––deep in the paint where Johnson used a sequence of moves to free up a shot, and sink a bucket to give the Badgers the 54-53 lead with 17 seconds left.
“For Malayna Johnson to bounce back and make a great move like that to get all the way to the rim, I'm just proud,” said Tsipis
The Phoenix missed an open corner three and Johnson gobbled up the rebound, but was tied up, which gave Green Bay one last opportunity. Redshirt sophomore guard Jen Wellnitz received the inbounds pass in front of the basket and was quickly surrounded by a wall of Cardinal and White, with her shot attempt failing to catch the rim.
In their past three games, the Badgers have seen a new type of team develop. Their momentum began to rise after their 103-61 win over MVSU last Thursday, the second such 100-point outing of the season, a first since 1993. Then, the Badgers battled Marquette (7-2) to a closely contested 81-75 back-and-forth contest that the Badgers led before a fourth quarter collapse.
“We've talked a lot about how we've grown from Milwaukee to Marquette and now we were playing the best,” said Tsipis. “To fend things off, I'm just really proud of the maturity throughout the game that our team competed with.”
The Badgers end their non-conference schedule with an upset-win over a team that had garnered top-25 votes in the past poll, and whose only loss came against the second-best team in the nation.
Wisconsin won't hit the floor until the new year, with a game scheduled January 1 at the Kohl Center against Michigan, signaling the dawn of a grueling Big Ten play slate that awaits the young Badger team.
And with the turning of the new year, redshirt-sophomore guard Ashley Kelsick will finally be able the join the team after sitting out more than a year as a part of the NCAA transfer policy––while Young’s status with the team still remains unclear. It is still unknown if or when she’ll rejoin her Badger teammates.