Wisconsin 77. Houston 54.
Not a bad beginning.
"We weren't perfect, but we certainly had a nice start," UW head coach Lisa Stone said. "It was a fun one out there tonight."
"Playing them last year and this year, their kids are so classy, they played so hard, and now that those freshman guards that they had a year ago at our place have grown up," Houston coach Joe Curl said. "… I really think you've got something special there."
The Cougars were 21-9 a year ago and two of their players were high WNBA draft picks. Friday they started two sophomores and a freshman.
"The difference between this year and last year: experience," Curl said.
Off the bench, sophomore forward Danielle Ward contributed 10 points and a career-high nine rebounds to the Badgers' effort.
"We all know Danielle can run, and we got her loose on a couple transition baskets….coming off the bench those are statistics that explain themselves," Stone said.
Wisconsin ran the Cougars ragged all night long. The Badgers pushed the tempo, running at nearly every opportunity in taking a 48-24 halftime lead.
"Defensively was really the name of the game in the first half," Stone said. "That allowed us to get out in transition and get some lay-ups."
UW was exceptionally efficient in the first half. Fourteen of Wisconsin's 19 first-half field goals came off assists and the entire team had just one turnover in the first 20 minutes.
"I didn't have a player out there that tried to do something wrong," Curl said. "I thought they just got on a roll and just picked us apart."
Wisconsin finished with 12 turnovers after Houston ratcheted up its defensive intensity in the second half. The Badgers had 21 assists on 30 field goals.
"We wanted to have less than 15 turnovers, out-rebound our opponents by five and get to the foul line more than they did," Stone said. "And they accomplished all three goals."
UW out-rebounded the Cougars 48-36, made 11 of 18 free throws to Houston's 8 of 13, and held the Cougars to 32 percent shooting.
This one was close for about four minutes. The Badgers out-scored Houston 38-18 in the final 16:22 of the first half to take a 24-point halftime lead.
There were several daggers:
- Ward followed an Anderson triple with a bucket in the paint that capped an 11-0 run, giving the Badgers a 29-11 advantage.
- Anderson's layup off a steal made it 33-14. A nifty pass from Banks to senior guard Ashley Josephson for a short jumper pushed a 37-17 edge.
- Anderson's second 3 of the first half spurred a 9-2 run to take a 46-21 lead late in the first half. After Anderson's triple Houston turned it over, then tried to apply a press. But UW broke it with ease and senior forward Annie Nelson found Banks for an easy bucket.
"They have a swagger," Curl said, regarding the improvement in Banks and Anderson. "They have a confidence about them and a year of seasoning. If you don't get better getting beat up in the Big Ten you are not going to get better."
Curl felt the Badgers learned plenty from their 12-16 season a year ago, and put those lessons to work Friday.
"This is massive improvement," he said. "I can't say enough about that. Because I've been there and done that. It's not easy to build a basketball program."
Houston put up a much better fight after halftime. Freshman guard Sha'Ratta Hawkins came off the bench and scored 17 of her game-high 28 points after the break. The Cougars played much better defensively, holding UW scoreless for close to seven minutes early in the second half.
But the Badgers second-half lead never shrank below 18 points.
Notable: Anderson surpassed the 500-career-point plateau. With 20 points Friday she now has 517…. Senior captain Kjersten Bakke started for the seventh time in her career… sophomore Akiya Alexander came off the bench and handled the point guard duties for 23 minutes. She had three assists and three turnovers… All 11 players who suited up for UW played. Freshman walk-on Brittany Cannon, who is nursing an injury, watched the game in street clothes… Houston shot 10 of 31 from the field in both the first and second halves.