With 3:22 left in the third quarter, the Wisconsin Badgers saw its 19-point first half lead diminished to just one. But through resilience and toughness, the Badgers (5-3) were able to bury the visiting La Salle Explorers (4-4) 71-60 for its third straight win.
It was a quick turnaround for UW. After returning home to Madison Wednesday night after defeating the University of Pittsburgh on the road in the Big 10-ACC Challenge, the Badgers were not allowed to practice Thursday due to a mandatory off-day required by the NCAA. Thus, Wisconsin only had one day to prepare for the Explorers.
Despite the unusual schedule, the Badgers came out strong, jumping out to a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, shooting 50 percent from the field.
“I thought we got off to a really good start,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “I thought defensively we really locked into what we thought that they would run and were able to really get that lead pushed out.”
Slowly yet surely, however, La Salle grinded its way back into the game through scrappy play and putting pressure on the Wisconsin defense.
“I thought what really helped La Salle get back in the game was we put them on the free throw line,” Tsipis said. “They went 7-for-11 from the line, but I think more importantly, it gave them confidence.”
This confidence propelled the Explorers to cut its deficit from a game-high 19 points midway through the second quarter to just eight points at halftime. The momentum gained by La Salle carried over to the third quarter where the Explorers were able to knock the Badger lead to just one point facilitated by a 12-2 run in the later stages of the third quarter.
Still, the Badgers embraced the adversity and were able to close the third quarter strong, pushing their lead back up to seven. After senior guard Cayla McMorris blocked a shot on the defensive end, freshman point guard Niya Beverly rejected a ball screen up high and darted in for a layup as time expired. McMorris was one of many brightspots for UW, as the she co-lead Wisconsin in scoring with 14 points while amassing 10 rebounds for a double-double. Junior forward Marsha Howard recorded her second double-double in a row, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Entering today against the Explorers, four out of the last five games the Badgers have played in have been determined by three points or less. Today was different. The Badgers were ultimately able to explode in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting and finish the game with a comfortable lead.
“We really kept our composure,” McMorris said. “We know that teams are going to go on their runs and its just how we bounce back from that and continue to do what we are good at.”
Spreading the wealth was a theme today for UW, as foul-trouble in the first half gave other Badger’s opportunities to play. With sophomore forward Abby Laszewski in foul-trouble, forward Kendall Shaw made nice contributions off the bench, finishing with eight points in 16 minutes.
“It’s always great to see a kid on her birthday be able to step up and help us,” said Tsipis. “Today, we had three people in the second quarter sitting next to me with two (fouls). That’s when we need our bench to step up and be able to have productive minutes on the floor.”
A part of spreading the wealth is spreading the minutes. All but one starter, in Howard, played less than 30 minutes. This will be important for Wisconsin as it heads into a busy part of its schedule, slated to play four games in seven days.
Next up, the Badgers will travel to Milwaukee Monday night as they face the Marquette Golden Eagles in another in-state rivalry game.