The Wisconsin Badgers’ (12-19, 3-15) 2019-2020 season ended in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday, falling to the fifth-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights (22-8, 11-7).
Wisconsin had just won against the Illinois Fighting Illini (11-19, 2-15) Wednesday, 71-55, making it a promising start to the tournament.
Sydney Hilliard scored 11 points, Imani Lewis scored 14 points with 8 rebounds, Niya Beverly brought ten points and six assists - contributing to the Badgers’ season-high of 22 assists on 27 field goals Wednesday - and Abby Lazewski scored a dominating 24 points and ten rebounds.
The game picked up momentum in the second quarter after finishing the previous one at a tie. Beverly hit two three-pointers within 36 seconds to lengthen Wisconsin’s lead, 17-11. In the same quarter, the Badgers held a 11-0 run pushing the lead to 28-16.
Illinois threatened to dwindle the Badgers’ lead twice in the fourth quarter, but Lazewski had other plans, responding to each gain on them with four consecutive points.
Illinois senior Ali Andrews scored 15 points and freshman Kennedi Myles had 13 points and 11 rebounds in her eighth double-double of the season.
With this win, Wisconsin advanced to the second round against Rutgers the next day.
“Obviously it's a tall task defensively, Rutgers is,” Wisconsin Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis told Big Ten. “But again, you hope the seniors are able to play with that sense of urgency knowing that they're only guaranteed one more game, but if there's still one more game to play, anything can happen.”
Imani Lewis was going into the next game head held high, not thinking about the past season but on what they could do now.
“Like I tell everybody, you have to have the winning mindset. We can't hang our heads, like oh, we played Rutgers twice and lost,” Lewis told Big Ten. “We've got to go in with the mindset that we're going to win, and then lay out the foundation, like how we're going to win, what can we all contribute to the win.”
The Badgers did indeed go into the game against the Scarlet Knights with a determined mindset. Their defense held Rutgers to 38.5% from the field and 20% from the arc in the first quarter.
Right at the buzzer ending the first half, Lewis tied the game 28-28. The start of the second half looked promising for Wisconsin with a 7-2 run and a 5-point lead.
The Badgers outrebounded Rutgers 36-28 and beat their season shoot average of 40.5% with 44.9%. The fight was evident.
Lewis scored 19 points, making this her 26th double digit game. With her 10 rebounds, too, this game was her 13th double-double this season.
Beverly scored 11 points against Rutgers, making this her eighth double digit game.
The Badgers held a lead for most of the third quarter, but the strong performance wasn’t enough against the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers forced 20 turnovers against Wisconsin, and finished the game with a bang; with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, they went on a 14-0 run now leading 54-45. The final score was 63-55.
Junior Arella Guirantes led the Scarlet Knights with 27 points - her 18th career 20+ point game, 14th this season. Junior Tekia Mack, senior Jordan Wallace and senior Danielle Migliore each scored nine points.
“Obviously we got the five-point lead, and were trying to rest some people, and they turned the pressure up to start the fourth quarter,” Tsipis told Big Ten in response to the loss. “And we didn't handle it the way I think we're capable of. How we handled it even at their place when we lost last week, we did a good job handling the pressure. So it was a little bit of the shades of that game to start the Big Ten Tournament.”
The Badgers will take this season with them in preparation for the next this spring.
“It's important for us that we sit there and see the level of competitiveness outside of the Maryland game, even a game if we got behind we scrapped, we fought, we got back into games,” Tsipis said in plans for next season. “Even if we didn't win that, we got back in and had big leads, at Indiana, at Iowa, against Rutgers the first time. Just, again, I think we're going to spend the spring and the summer figuring out how we can do things that emphasize finishing.”