Wisconsin (4-4) fought back from a 21-point second-half deficit to pull within one with the clock ticking. With a sparse but raucous crowd urging them on, sophomore guard Janese Banks hit a jumper to bring the Badgers to within 66-65 with 56 seconds left.
The Badgers had possession still down one with 20 seconds left. With 10 seconds to go sophomore forward Danielle Ward took a jumper that rimmed out and into SDSU hands. Banks collected her fourth foul and sent SDSU freshman forward Jennifer Warkenthien to the free-throw line, where she hit both of her shots with 8.7 seconds left, putting SDSU up 68-65.
"After I missed the first one, I figured I better put them in." said Warkenthien, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one just 12 seconds earlier. "I guess I wasn't really nervous, it was just like, ‘I get to the line, you've got to put them in and make it so you can win.'"
Banks took one final shot from beyond the arc as time expired, but the shot fell short of the basket and crushed UW's hopes of a comeback.
"We didn't get to the rim, a couple of shots didn't go in when we put ourselves in a position to win the game," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said, on the last few plays of the game.
Wisconsin was down 56-35 with 14 minutes left in the second half but Gibson's layup kicked off a 19-0 run that kept Wisconsin's hopes of a win alive. The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, went on a nine-minute scoreless spell that sophomore forward Sarah Meckley finally broke with two free throws with 6:21 left.
The Jackrabbits were able to give up 19 unanswered points and still win, partly because they wreaked havoc on Wisconsin's offense throughout the night, disrupting the Badgers' timing and forcing turnovers. The Badgers had a season-high 26 turnovers. Wisconsin shot a respectable 44.6 percent from the field, but only had a season-low 56 shot attempts because of the miscues. The Jackrabbits took advantage of Wisconsin's mistakes, collecting 22 points off turnovers.
"We're not always going to be the quickest and most athletic team out there so we have a style and a system that really requires us to try and disrupt other offenses," SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. "We feel like if we just allowed Wisconsin to go through their half-court offense and execute, and have to try to have to stop those guards, it would be hard to do that. They're fantastic players."
Banks led the Badgers with 15 points and 12 rebounds, earning her first career double-double, but also had seven turnovers. Sophomore center Caitlin Gibson, in her second career start, added 11 points and three rebounds, while Ward had 12 points and Anderson contributed 10.
Freshman forward Christine Spencer, who played six minutes, hit her first career 3 during Wisconsin's comeback, eliciting a cheer from the crowd and adding a spark to the team during its run.
"I give a lot of credit to Chris," Ward said. "She came out there, she was determined, she was ready. Coach said ‘bench be ready.' She was ready. She gave her all."
For SDSU, sophomore guard Andrea Verdegan, from Glen Flora, Wis., led both teams with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 5 of 9 from behind the arc. Junior guard Megan Vogel collected 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.
South Dakota State took a 14-7 lead with 14:44 remaining in the first half. Wisconsin never pulled closer than 14-10 the rest of the half, while the Jackrabbits confidently hit their shots—including three from 3-point range—to take a 42-26 lead at halftime.
Turning over a new stone
With the team's third straight loss at the Kohl Center and fourth consecutive defeat overall, Stone painted a bleak picture of the SDSU game and is searching for answers.
"We're starting over now. Our record is now 0-0. We have to start over. A brand new season starts tomorrow," Stone said. "There will be some changes, changes in the way we practice, changes in the way we behave, changes in our appreciation and communication with each other."
"It all comes down to heart," Ward said. "I'm not going to say that we don't have it, I'm not going to say who had it and who didn't have it. But the . . . answer is, who has heart?"
SDSU a team in transition
South Dakota State is in its second year as a provisional Division I team and is playing an independent schedule until it finds a conference home. The women's basketball team won the Division II National Championship in 2003.
The Jackrabbits are now eligible for a postseason berth in the WNIT but, by NCAA criteria, are not eligible for NCAA Tournament play until the 2008-09 season. All of SDSU's games this season have come against Division I opponents, including wins against Nebraska, Colorado State, UC Irvine, UW-Milwaukee and Wisconsin.