Ashley Josephson's shot glanced off the rim, teetering precariously in midair. But to the Badgers' relief, Josephson's baseline pull-up jumper fell through the net, bidding adieu to an eight-minute, 29-second first half scoring drought for Wisconsin.
Five-and-a-half minutes later, Stephanie Rich's three-point shot capped a 20-5 run that gave the Badgers a 29-22 halftime advantage and propelled them to a 54-49 win over UW-Milwaukee Monday evening.
Wisconsin (5-3) won despite recording season lows in free throws made and attempted (6-for-12) and three point shots made and attempted (2-for-8) and survived 20 turnovers and 37.7 percent shooting, largely due to Milwaukee's (3-6) season-high 29 turnovers and the Badgers season-high 16 steals.
"It was not a work of art out there offensively," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "It's a sign of great things for the future that we could dig down deep enough tot pull out a win."
"I think a lot of games we beat ourselves," UW-Milwaukee coach Sandy Botham said. "The passes were there, the opportunities were there…we've been notorious. This isn't new for us."
Lello Gebisa hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds left to ice Wisconsin's victory and recorded her first double-double of the season with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Rich tallied a game-high 16 points and played all 40 minutes, while Josephson finished with eight points and five steals.
Panther star forward Maria Viall struggled with foul trouble and was held to 12 points, almost eight points below her season average. The senior scored two points in a first half in which she played just eight minutes after picking up two early fouls.
Viall, though, scored six of Milwaukee's last eight points, and her bucket in the paint with one minute, 32 seconds left brought the Panthers within 50-49.
Rich, though, drove in for a layup, then stole it from sophomore forward Nicole Drummond. Viall snagged a defensive rebound with 25 seconds left, giving Milwaukee an opportunity trailing 52-49. Sophomore forward Molly O'Brien tried to pass inside to junior forward Teri Huff, who had just set a screen in the paint, but Huff was not anticipating the pass.
"The roll was definitely there—that was the right read—but Teri didn't roll," Botham said. "Molly understands the game well and she read it perfectly but Teri just didn't respond to it."
The Badgers led 9-3 early in the contest, outdueling the Panthers as each team struggled through an anemic offensive performance. Wisconsin's struggles, though, went from acute to chronic after Rich's fastbreak layup gave the Badgers the six-point edge with 14 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half.
Wisconsin would not score again until the 6:25 mark, in the process turning the ball over eight times, missing nine field goals and two free throws.
Milwaukee was not particularly sharp either, committed 18 first half turnovers, but the Panthers pulled ahead 17-9 when junior center Kimberly Becker converted a layup in traffic. About a minute later, Josephson's shot made it 17-11 and jumpstarted Wisconsin's offense. Suddenly, the Badgers could not miss, as Rich and Jordan Wilson converted layups on consecutive possessions. Panther freshman guard Aubrey Hampton's three momentarily quelled the run, but Rich responded with a rainbow from six feet behind the arc that narrowed the lead to 20-18.
"We had some good opportunities to score but they just weren't falling and finally we were able to put the ball in the basket," Rich said.
Jordan Wilson's putback at 4:10 tied the game and Josephson's steal and layup gave Wisconsin its first lead in more than seven minutes at 22-20. Josephson then hit a jumper just inside the three-point line, Lello Gebisa followed an Emily Ashbaugh miss and Rich hit a three from the top of they key, marking nine straight possessions with a basket.
Wisconsin led throughout the second half, but never by more than seven points.