"We just wanted to come in and play fundamental basketball," UW senior guard Stephanie Rich said. "Just get a win under our belt and feel like what it was to win five games ago."
The non-conference affair came as a break in what has been a tough conference season for Wisconsin (7-9 overall, 1-5 Big Ten). The Badgers, though, wrapped up a perfect 6-0 home record in non-conference games this season with the win over Cleveland State (2-15 overall, 1-5 Horizon League).
Rich and freshman guard Janese Banks led the Badgers with 14 points.
Wisconsin, however, won behind a balanced attack, with five players in double figures, including veteran reserves Ashley Josephson and Ebba Gebisa, who have seen their playing time decrease dramatically this season with the Badgers' influx of freshman talent.
"I thought Ashley Josephson, Ebba Gebisa gave us great minutes off the bench," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said.
Gebisa, a senior forward, scored a season-high 11 points in just 12 minutes and added seven rebounds.
Josephson, a junior guard, also tallied 11 points, including nine first-half points. Josephson made 3 of 5 field goals and 2 of 2 3-pointers in the first half and also had four assists. She sparked Wisconsin's 48-28 domination in an opening 20 minutes that saw the Badgers make 7 of 11 triples.
Josephson's play offset a tough first half for freshman guard Jolene Anderson, who sat out the final 16:17 of the first half after picking up her second foul. Anderson, the Badgers' leading scorer, rebounded to score 10 second-half points to finish with 13.
"I felt like we were a little bit star struck to begin with and made a lot of mental errors, and we had a period of time where we just could not score," Cleveland State coach Kate Peterson said.
The Vikings led 4-1 one minute and five seconds into the game but were held to just 14 points in the next 14:22 and trailed 40-18 with 4:38 left to play in the first half.
Cleveland State, though, established an inside presence in the second half and cut the lead to as few as eight. The Vikings scored 16 points in the paint and 15 at the free throw line in outscoring UW 43-39 in the second half.
"We were running an overload offense and allowing our post player, Mandy Sichting, to kind of control the lane," Peterson said. "The one thing that we felt we could exploit against the Badgers was the fact that they just didn't have any really big bodies on the inside."
Sichting had a game-high 17 points, 13 in the second half, on 5 of 6 shooting from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line.
"That's a key reason why they were very successful in the second half. They got to the basket and they got to the foul line," Stone said. "Our help inside was late as well. We'll address that."
After falling behind 57-32 with 17:02 left to play the Vikings outscored Wisconsin 21-4 over the next 6:01, drawing to within 61-53 with 10:01 left to play.
"We got a little lethargic on defense," Stone said.
"Unfortunately for us we let up a little bit in the second half, missed some shots and allowed Cleveland State to get some confidence," Stone said.
Wisconsin answered with a 13-3 run to build a 74-56 edge with 5:59 left to play. Freshmen scored all 13 points in the run, with Anderson (7), Banks (2) and Ward (4) providing the offense. Ward finished with six points and six rebounds in 15 minutes before fouling out.
To be sure, this game had its fair share of blemishes. The two teams combined for an incredible 50 fouls and 36 turnovers. Wisconsin was 30 of 40 from the free-throw line, while the Vikings were 24 of 34. In the second half alone the teams combined to make 34 free throws as the result of 30 fouls.
"Obviously we were fouling at every opportunity we could," said Stone, whose team was whistled 24 times.
Thursday's game broke up an 11-day stretch between Big Ten games for the Badgers, who will try to break their four-game conference losing streak Jan. 27 when No. 3 Ohio State visits the Kohl Center.
"We need to get better," Stone said. "We're at a mid-point where we can make a little push here with a couple home games coming up."