Despite the Badgers' woeful shooting performance, and Illinois' near game-long lead, the Illini (5-7 Big Ten, 13-9 overall) struggled as well and it seemed as though Wisconsin (4-7, 10-11) was within one good run of being able to bring the crowd into the game and capture its fourth Big Ten victory of the season.
Finally, with just over 13 minutes left in the game, the Badgers at a miserable 10 of 50 from the floor and trailing 36-26, UW coach Lisa Stone called a timeout, her feet slamming into the Kohl Center floor as she tried to get the team fired up. She said after the game that in each timeout she told her team that they were going to win this game. Maybe it worked.
Shortly after the timeout, Wisconsin, which tried a variety of lineups while trying to find a spark, went on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 42-42 with 7:55 left to play. With the crowd, which had begun to grow anxious and seemed to want to head for the exits, suddenly roaring, the momentum had clearly shifted in the Badgers' favor.
"I told our players time after time that our crowd is ready to erupt," Stone said. "When we made a push, they started getting into it, momentum started going our way. We started shooting the ball more with confidence."
Jolene Anderson's 3-pointer with 5:44 left gave UW a 47-46 lead, its first since a 2-0 edge just 1:03 into the game.
Wisconsin was aided by strong free throw shooting. After getting to the line only six times in the first half, the Badgers were 18 of 21 in the second, including crucial free throws by freshman guard Janese Banks, who scored all nine of her points from the charity stripe, and junior forward Annie Nelson, who had six late-game free throws.
"We bailed them out," Illinois coach Theresa Grentz said of the Badgers' free throw shooting. Her team was called for 20 personal fouls.
Nelson had her first career double-double with 11 rebounds and 12 points while freshman guard Anderson grabbed a career-high 14 boards and chipped in a team-best 17 points on 6 of 20 shooting. Senior guard Stephanie Rich contributed 11 points and a game-high six steals.
Angelina Williams, the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, paced the Illini with 26 points and six assists, but she missed a potential game-tying runner with 38 seconds left. Nelson made a pair of free throws at the other end, giving the Badgers a 62-58 lead.
On its next two possessions, Illinois missed two free throws and a 3-pointer, while Wisconsin made 3 of 4 free throws to clinch it.
Back in early January, the Badgers saw the 79-66 loss at Illinois as a possible turning point in the season. Since the loss the team has gone 4-2, including a 3-2 mark in Big Ten play. Nelson said she hopes this win will also give Wisconsin a boost.
"It felt like we were in cement [watching tape from the Illinois loss]," Nelson said. "Revenge was not on our minds. It was about doing it for us."