Wisconsin made no mistake about what part of Western Illinois' offense it was concerned with. The Badgers opened the game employing 2-3 and 1-2-2 zone defenses, aiming to take away Westerwind forward Tiffany Cornelius' inside presence.
Wisconsin largely succeeded in that venture, but not in much else Monday evening, struggling to a 64-58 loss. The Badgers (2-2) suffered from uncharacteristic rebounding struggles and had a somewhat characteristically tough time finding an offensive rhythm.
Still, Wisconsin had a chance at the end of the game. The Westerwinds, however, took advantage of Wisconsin's struggles on the glass and converted the offensive chances they were presented with to come out with the win.
The best way to beat a zone, of course, is to shoot well from the perimeter. Western Illinois (2-2) did just that, making 9-of-24 three-point attempts, including 6-of-15 in the first half. The Westerwinds were just 7-of-23 from behind the arc in their first three games this season.
"We knew that they had put in their 1-2-2 when they had been at the tournament (over the weekend)," Western Illinois coach Leslie Crane said. "Our game has always been a power basketball game but we told our kids that they were going to give them the looks because in our other games we hadn't proved that we could shoot the basketball, so we felt like they would probably go ahead and pack it inside and take that inside game away. I gave the green light to a lot of kids tonight. You've just got to trust your kids and know that they're going to be able to do that and they did."
Westerwind guard Orinta Kavaliauskaite came off the bench and led all scorers with 15 points, hitting 5-of-9 from the floor (3-of-6 behind the arc) and picking up three steals.
"One of our weakest areas has been our bench in the last two or three games and we felt like our bench really came and gave us a great lift tonight," Crane said.
Wisconsin's height in the paint can normally be relied upon to control the glass, but for the first time this season the Badgers were outrebounded. Most importantly, Western Illinois grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which it converted into 12 points. Center Emily Ashbaugh's foul trouble compounded the Badgers' woes inside. The team's leading rebounder, Ashbaugh played just 16 minutes before fouling out and was only on the floor for six minutes in the second half.
"I give Western Illinois a lot of credit for their physical play down low," Ashbaugh said. "They did a really good job using their size and using their bodies to create space."
Cornelius was held to six points on 1-for-8 shooting, 11 points below here season average and also struggled with foul trouble, accumulating four.
"We shut Cornelius down, but that wasn't the answer," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "The fact was we got outrebounded and we didn't play defense. When our team can commit to that and put a string of defensive and rebounding efforts together then we are going to be in a position to win."
In addition to defense and rebounding, Wisconsin never found a flow offensively. Often the team's catalyst, guard Stephanie Rich was 2-for-12 from the field. Rich did, however, contribute eight assists.
Despite the struggles, the Badgers still had a chance to win at the end. Wisconsin drew to within 56-54 with a little more than two minutes to play after Rich picked up a steal and went in for a layup. Western Illinois guard Rita Castans answered, though, knocking down her fourth three-point shot of the game. Castans made up for Cornelius' scoring woes, picking up 11 more points (14) than her season and career averages.
Two Rich free throws drew Wisconsin back within one possession, at 59-56, with one minute, 38 seconds left and guard Ashley Josephson and forward Ebba Gebisa forced a jump ball, giving Wisconsin new life with less than a minute to play. Rich, though, missed a baseline runner on the ensuing possession. Forward Jordan Wilson was there for the offensive rebound and drew a foul but missed the front end of a one-and-one from the charity stripe. Western Illinois then hit five free throws down the stretch to seal it. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was relatively cold from the line, hitting 12-of-18, for its lowest percentage (66.7) of the season.
"We kept fighting, but it ended up being too little too late," Stone said.
Score by half
Western Illinois - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Orinta Kavaliauskaite (5-2-15), Rita Castans (5-0-14), Zane Teilane (4-0-8), Erica Zielinksi (2-1-6), Tiffany Cornelius (1-4-6), Jessica Cook (1-4-6), Kristina Gribic (1-0-3), Rachel Reed (1-0-2), Amee Binder (1-0-2), Lateai James (0-2-2). Totals: 21-13-64.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Ashley Josephson (4-2-12), Stephanie Rich (2-4-9), Emily Ashbaugh (4-0-8), Ebba Gebisa (3-1-8), Jordan Wilson (4-0-8), Lello Gebisa (2-1-5), Kandace Evans (0-4-4), Kjersten Bakke (2-0-4). Totals: 21-12-58.
Three point goals - Western Illinois 9 (Castans 4, Kavaliauskaite 3, Gribic, Zielinski), Wisconsin 4 (Josephson 2, Rich, E. Gebisa).
Rebounds - Western Illinois 38 (Cornelius 8), Wisconsin 32 (Wilson 8).
Assists - Western Illinois 14 (Cornelius 4), Wisconsin 18 (Rich 8). Turnovers - Western Illinois 16 (Kavaliauskaite 5), Wisconsin 16 (Rich 5).
Blocks - Western Illinois 0, Wisconsin 2 (L. Gebisa, E. Gebisa). Steals - Western Illinois 8 (Kavaliauskaite 3), Wisconsin 9 (Rich, Evans 3). Fouls - Western Illinois 21, Wisconsin 20.
Points - in the paint: Western Illinois 22, Wisconsin 24. - Off turnovers: Western Illinois 18, Wisconsin 8. - Fast break: Western Illinois 0, Wisconsin 2. - Bench: Western Illinois 24, Wisconsin 16. - Second chance: Western Illinois 12, Wisconsin 6.