Women's basketball: Badgers win for seniors

Wisconsin tops Northwestern 70-63 in emotional evening at Kohl Center

MADISON – The long, grueling battles, the trials and tribulations, the success and failures; all of the emotions of four long seasons were rolled up into 40 minutes of basketball Wednesday night. Seniors Stephanie Rich and Ebba Gebisa marched out onto the Kohl Center floor for their last home game as Badgers, one of several end-of-career milestones on the horizon in the next few weeks. Despite a losing record looming for the third consecutive year, the two seniors left their home floor for the final time as winners as UW knocked off Northwestern 70-63.

Rich and Gebisa opened the game determined to make their final Kohl Center memories positive ones, scoring 10 of the Badgers' first 16 points as UW climbed to an early 16-4 lead. Wisconsin would never trail from that point on.

"I think definitely it being senior night added extra incentive," Gebisa said. "But also just getting towards the end of the season and picking up even more of a sense of urgency to pick up a few more W's before we head into the Big Ten Tournament."

Rich finished the game with 17 points and six assists, despite being forced to sit out a portion of the first half after sustaining an injury less than six minutes into the game. Making her 110th appearance for the Badgers, Rich moved within 49 points of becoming Wisconsin's 18th 1,000-point scorer.

Jolene Anderson led the way for the Badgers, dropping 28 points on 12 of 24 shooting from the field. Her scoring output was the highest for the freshman since Dec. 16 and was one point short of her career high. But Anderson and her freshmen teammates did not focus on individual performances.

"My main focus going into the game was just to get Steph and Ebba and Shawna (Nicols) a victory in their last game on the Kohl Center floor," Anderson said. "That was my mindset going into the game, just helping the team, especially for Steph and Ebba."

Wisconsin controlled the opening 20 minutes with a full-court press that forced the Wildcats into eight first-half turnovers. Wisconsin used its defensive intensity to capitalize on the offensive end and outscored the Wildcats 11-0 on points off turnovers in the opening half to jump out to a 36-22 lead at the break.

UW went on to open up its largest lead of the game at the 9:44 mark on two free throws by freshman forward Danielle Ward, giving the Badgers a 53-33 lead. But Northwestern clawed back into the contest behind the shooting of junior Ifeoma Okonkwo and sophomore A.J. Glasauer. The Wildcats used a 21-7 run over an eight-minute stretch late in the second half to cut the lead to six with 2:07 remaining.

"It was pretty much just squaring up towards the basket was probably the biggest thing," Anderson said of Northwestern's pressure, which contributed to the Wildcats second half run. "We didn't catch the ball in the triple threat position and then just cutting to get open for the ball, so just taking care of the ball was the main thing that went wrong."

NU (2-13 Big Ten, 5-23 overall) could draw no closer than within six, though, as Anderson hit a big 3-pointer to halt the Wildcat rally with just less than two minutes left in the contest.

The victory gives Wisconsin (5-10, 11-14) its 11th victory on the season and fifth Big Ten victory, both one more than last season's totals.

"It is good [to get the extra win] for us especially before we go down to Purdue because that is a game we can win if we decide before we go down there to just refuse to lose," Gebisa said. "And I think tonight's win and hopefully another win down in Purdue will give us even more momentum going into the tournament and I think it is definitely a big confidence booster."

Seniors say an emotional goodbye

Wednesday night proved to be an emotional evening for Gebisa, Rich and Nicols, who was forced to leave the team prior to last season because of health reasons. The three were introduced on senior night with their parents and families in a pre-game ceremony honoring the dedication and hard work they contributed to the program the past four years.

Emotions began flowing early in the evening as Gebisa got teary-eyed during the ceremony and national anthem. But the Badgers were able to keep the emotions in check for most of the 40 minutes of basketball. Gebisa and Rich headed to the sideline for the final time with 15.9 seconds remaining before emotions ran high.

"I know I am going to miss the game tremendously," Gebisa said. "But even more so I am just going to miss being around my teammates and the entire team."

The two women were met by coaches and teammates on the sideline as the 5,348 Kohl Center faithful gave the seniors one final standing ovation. The three seniors were all given the opportunity to say one last ‘thank you' to the Badger fans in attendance moments after the game concluded.

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