MADISON, Wis.—What a difference the comfort of home court makes. In front of an electrifying crowd of 7,604, the Wisconsin women's basketball team squeaked by with a 66-62 win over Indiana Sunday, with sophomore forwards Jordan Wilson and Kjersten Bakke making big shots in crunch time. Both made a free throw in the final seconds of the game while the Badgers held the Hoosiers at bay for the last two minutes.
"We put this one away," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "We had to play defense, it was 64-62 or whatever it was, it was a two-point difference and our team hung on. We went to Jordan inside. We got to call on her, she was putting up numbers for us and she made it simple."
Wilson provided the offensive spark for the Badgers inside, earning a career- and game-high 24 points as well as 10 rebounds. She attributed her superb game to the confidence she has as well as the confidence of her teammates.
"Coach had us run a four out, one in for a little bit but the guards had great passes in to me and I knew that if I missed a bunny, that [senior center Emily Ashbaugh] and Bakke had my back, so I had a lot of confidence behind me. Great passes and great rebounds," Wilson said.
"We just knew we had to go in and fight and get it inside to Jordan because she was just amazing," sophomore guard Ashley Josephson said. "The second half, she would just turn around and do a little hook shot and just go in for it. It was great to have her playing like she was today."
But Wilson had help from her teammates, many of whom exuded the same confidence. Josephson, a constant force on the perimeter, had 14 points and made four of her five 3-point shots. Ashbaugh, who has shown little consistency this year, had 16 points and eight rebounds.
There is no doubt that the Badgers play far better at home than on the road and the statistics from Wisconsin's loss to Indiana Jan. 8 are a shocking reminder of the team's road woes. When the teams met earlier this year, Wisconsin fell 60-39 in what was arguably the low point of the season. In that game, the Badgers had their lowest point total of the season, a school record for the fewest number of field goals (11) and could only muster 13 points in the first half, which tied the Big Ten's all-time low. But that was then and at home, Wisconsin looked like a team that had undergone years of rehabilitation.
"I just told our kids, that game in Bloomington was the low point of our season offensively. We didn't execute very well," Stone said. "Obviously we're an improved basketball team. To sit up here with a ‘W' is certainly a lot more refreshing. … I like the feeling in the locker room right now. It's a good feeling, it's a confident feeling. There's not a person that's abandoned or jumped ship or thinks they're any better than the team. It's a team ahead of themselves and I'm proud of them for that."
Perhaps the biggest sign of improvement, though, is that the Badgers did not squander away a lead at home. Against Iowa Feb. 12, Wisconsin lost in overtime 87-82 at home after letting an eight-point lead with 39 seconds left in regulation slip. But against Indiana, Wisconsin extended a two-point lead into a four-point cushion and increased the game's intensity.
"We finished a game today," Stone said. "It's a great learning experience and a good one this time, that we'll try to lay a foundation and how to finish games and be successful because that's the direction they want just as much as I do."
"We talked about Iowa and really the only thing that we talked about is that we're going to put all of that behind us and we're not going to make the same mistakes," Wilson said. "The mistakes that we made were mistakes that we knew we couldn't make at the end and we, I think, made a huge step today in sealing the game, sealing the win."
Wisconsin enjoyed an explosive start, building a 37-26 lead heading into halftime. In the first half the Badgers made 14 of their 28 field goals (50 percent), far above their season average 38.9 percent. Wisconsin finished 23-for-47, or 49 percent.
Indiana, meanwhile, struggled to make shots, shooting 37.5 percent Sunday afternoon. Standouts sophomore guard Cyndi Valentin and junior forward Jenny DeMuth had successful nights, contributing 21 and 18 points, respectively. Valentin reset the school record for most consecutive free throws made, surpassing Kristi Green's 31 in 1998. She added seven for a total of 34 in a row.
Score by half
Indiana - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Cyndi Valentin (6-7-21), Jenny DeMuth (3-11-18), Angela Hawkins (3-3-9), Annika Boyd (3-0-8), Leah Enterline (1-0-2), LeeAnn Stephenson (1-0-2), Jamey Chapman (1-0-2). Totals: 18-21-62.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Jordan Wilson (8-8-24), Emily Ashbaugh (6-4-16), Ashley Josephson (5-0-14), Lello Gebisa (2-2-6), Kjersten Bakke (1-1-3), Stephanie Rich (1-0-1), Annie Nelson (0-1-1). Totals: 23-16-66.
Three point goals - Indiana 5 (Valentin, Boyd 2, DeMuth), Wisconsin 4 (Josephson 4).
Rebounds - Indiana 31 (DeMuth 7, Chapman 6, Hawkins 5, Valentin 3, Sarah McKay, Boyd, Carrie Smith 2, Brigett Branson, Enterline, Stephenson, Team), Wisconsin 37 (Wilson 10, Ashbaugh 8, Rich 6, Team 4, Bakke 3, L. Gebisa, Ebba Gebisa, Nelson 2).
Assists - Indiana 8 (Enterline, Valentin 3, Boyd) , Wisconsin 18 (Rich 9, Wilson, Bakke 3, Ashbaugh, Josephson, E. Gebisa). Turnovers - Indiana 12 (Hawkins, Chapman 3, DeMuth, Enterline 2, Boyd, Valentin), Wisconsin 14 (Rich 4, Nelson, L. Gebisa, Bakke, Ashbaugh 2, Josephson, Wilson).
Blocks - Indiana 2 (Hawkins, McKay), Wisconsin 3 (Rich 2, L. Gebisa). Steals - Indiana 8 (DeMuth, Hawkins, Valentin 2, Boyd, Enterline), Wisconsin 3 (Rich 2, Josephson). Fouls - Indiana 25, Wisconsin 17. Fouled out - Hawkins, Branson (Indiana).
Points - in the paint: Indiana 22, Wisconsin 30 - Off turnovers: Indiana 11, Wisconsin 9 - Fast break: Indiana 6, Wisconsin 0 - Bench: Indiana 12, Wisconsin 7 - Second chance: Indiana 12, Wisconsin 7. Ties - 2. Lead changes - 0.