The No. 11 seed Badgers opened up Big Ten Tournament play against the No. 14 seed Rutgers, and the two were tied 6-6 with 3:16 left in the first quarter.
The game was never tied again, as the Badgers (3-13 Big Ten, 9-21 overall) went on to the win the first quarter 14-6, the first half 27-13 and ultimately the game 61-55 against the Scarlet Knights (3-12, 6-24).
“We've talked a lot as a team since the game ended at Iowa on Sunday night about doing something that nobody in the program currently had done: win a first round game,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis told UWBadgers.com.
Redshirt senior forward Avyanna Young led her young squad with 20 points, and also added four rebounds and three assists.
While Young did pour in almost a third of her team’s points, Rutgers’ Shrita Parker did her best to keep her team afloat with 24 points in the game. The Badgers' bench gave Wisconsin a slight edge as the two-top scorers went back-and-forth.
The UW bench recorded eight points, with five coming from sophomore guard Roichelle Marble and three from redshirt senior forward Kendall Shaw.
Though eight points is by no means a substantial amount, in a game that was decided by six points, each of those baskets was crucial. The Rutgers' bench failed to register even a single point off the pine.
“We didn't get rattled up when they were starting to pick up their intensity, which I feel like in the beginning of the season we would have done,” Young said.
The Badgers started two freshmen in guard Kendra Van Leeuwen and forward Courtney Fredrickson, and both were undaunted by the big stage.
Van Leeuwen tied for the team lead with seven points at the half, while Fredrickson led the team in rebounds for the entire game with seven boards.
With the win, the Badgers move on to the second day of the tournament, which tips off off tomorrow at 11 a.m.
Wisconsin will play in the night-cap, where they are set to take on No. 6 seed Michigan State at 8 p.m.
Young will be leaned upon every game this tournament to carry the Badger offense. With that extra attention she will draw, junior guard Cayla McMorris needs to step up.
The guard added nine points in Wednesday’s game, but had averaged 12.2 coming into the game as Wisconsin’s leading scorer on the year.
Specifically, McMorris must continue to get to the free-throw line. She has shown a knack for baiting defenders into fouls as they try to get ahead of her pull-up midrange jumper or on her aggressive drives to the basket.
Sophomore forward Marsha Howard has been ready to go––whether starting or coming off the bench––all season, and finished second on the team in scoring Wednesday with 12 points.
Those two will be critical for the Badgers to find any success against the Spartans, who are led by flamethrower guard Tori Jankoska and her scorching 23 points per game.
If Young can go toe-to-toe with Jankoska on the offensive end, it will be a battle of the secondary scorers. That’s when McMorris and Howard will need to take the game on their shoulders.