It all came together Wednesday night for the Badgers, as they ended their home season with a combination of senior night, a senior reaching her 1,000-point mark and a buzzer-beater shot to seal the victory.
“You’re not going to remember certain plays, but you’re going to remember that feeling to walk off, as a senior, with a win.” Wisconsin head coach Jonathan Tsipis said.
The Badgers (3-12 Big Ten, 8-20 overall) welcomed Illinois (3-12 Big Ten, 8-20) to the Kohl Center and entertained the fans for 40 straight minutes before the final buzzer sounded with Wisconsin capturing a 59-55 victory.
Quarters one and two brought little excitement, other than Wisconsin ending the first with a 15-11 lead and going into the half with a 26-18 lead.
The tide began to turn in the second half in Illinois’ favor, and provided 20 minutes of pure excitement.
Wisconsin started the half on a jumper by sophomore forward Marsha Howard, extending its lead to 10, the largest lead of the game for the Badgers.
Illinois started pressing Wisconsin and fought back all quarter, eventually tying the game up at 34 with 2:17 left on the clock, thanks to a layup from freshman guard Petra Holešínská. Not long after, Illinois took the lead, 36-34, with 1:34 remaining on a layup from sophomore forward and leading scorer Alex Wittinger.
Wisconsin was able to tie the game back up, but a last second corner three from Illinois gave the Fighting Illini a one-point lead heading into the fourth.
It did not take Wisconsin very long to regain the lead, and keep it. Freshman forward Courtney Fredrickson was sent to the line 40 seconds into the quarter, knocked down both of them and gave the Badgers a 40-39 lead. Wisconsin would not give that lead up for the rest of the game.
The fourth quarter was a battle on both ends of the court for both teams, but Illinois was unable to get the game tied throughout. With 35 seconds left, freshman guard Courtney Joens hit two free throws to make it a two-point game. Freshman point guard Kendra Van Leeuwen decided to take over at that point.
The Badgers exited a timeout with 14 seconds left on the clock and 10 left on the shot clock. Van Leeuwen drove left, went into the lane and tossed up a floater as the shot clock expired, hitting nothing but net. Wisconsin went up four with four seconds left, all but capturing the victory.
“It’s a tight game and when you’re in the moment it just comes naturally,” Van Leeuwen said. “When I got the opportunity to take it at the end, ball in my hand, it was just natural.”
Senior Taylor Kuhn made her way into the starting lineup for Wisconsin, making it a memorable night ending her career playing alongside her classmates. Senior Avyanna Young also notched her 1,000th point of her college basketball career, capping off her home career as a Badger.
“It’s awesome. I’m thankful for every opportunity I have and to see the hard work we put in, day-in day-out, regardless of the outcome,” Kuhn said. “It’s awesome to finish with a win on the home floor.”
When reflecting on her career as a Badger, Young had nothing but pride.
“Being at Wisconsin has meant so much to me,” Young said. “I’m very thankful and blessed to say that I represent Wisconsin.”
Junior guard Cayla McMorris led the scoring for Wisconsin, putting in 14 points and five rebounds. Fredrickson added 12 points and nine rebounds to the victory.
It’s hard to imagine a day better than this for a team. Back-to-back wins, ending the home season on a victory and recognizing the seniors of the team seems almost surreal for one night of basketball.
Wisconsin will hope to dazzle the fans this Sunday when it takes on Iowa on the road, in its final regular season game of the season.