Wisconsin held a 61-56 lead with 3:21 left but the Badgers fouled five times in the remaining stretch, which Michigan State turned into nine points at the free-throw line. Freshman forward Aisha Jefferson made a layup with 2:20 left to put MSU down by one, 61-60, and hit a key jumper to give the Spartans a 64-63 lead with a minute to go. She was also clutch at the charity stripe, sinking three of her four attempts, all of which came in the last minute. Senior forward Liz Shimek, who finished with a game-high 18 points, made two free throws with four seconds left to put MSU ahead 69-63.
For nearly all of the game, though, Wisconsin (6-10, 1-4 Big Ten) played with confidence, poise and courage. But the last few minutes got to the Badgers, and they committed three turnovers and failed several times to grab rebounds as the clock wore down.
"We shot ourselves in the foot with some poor decisions in the last two minutes," Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. "And it's too bad because this team deserved to win this one. They played valiantly, were together, smiling, believing. . . We wanted it more, it appeared."
Wisconsin held a lead for most of the game. Working off the hot hand of senior guard Ashley Josephson, who knocked down five 3-pointers, and sophomore guard Jolene Anderson, who hit four treys, the Badgers kept themselves in the game and then some, leading by as many as 10 points, 55-45, with seven minutes left.
"We controlled that whole game," Stone said. "We played great defense, patient offensively, 15 turnovers, not bad … but we're right there. It feels good with our effort. I'm very proud of our team. I just feel very bad that we didn't come away with a ‘W'."
Anderson played one of the most complete games of her career, finishing just two rebounds shy of the first triple-double in school history, with 14 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, although she also coughed up five turnovers.
Josephson led the team with 15 points, all on made 3s, and sophomore forward Danielle Ward contributed 13 points and eight rebounds. The Badgers as a team, though, shot 39 percent.
"We got the ball to our open shooters," Josephson said. "Me and Jo and everybody else were hot tonight so it just felt good to be able to rotate the ball like we did and find the open player. Jolene with 10 assists, that's awesome. You can't get any better than that."
Michigan State's three leading scorers, Shimek, senior guard Lindsay Bowen (15 points and six rebounds) and junior guard Victoria Lucas-Perry (16 points and seven rebounds) carried the Spartans on their backs, contributing all but 20 of the team's points.
Jefferson gave her team a boost at the end, scoring seven of her nine total points, drawing two fouls, grabbing a rebound and blocking one shot in the last two-and-a-half minutes.
"I thought Aisha Jefferson, our freshman, was maybe the difference maker in the game," Michigan State coach Joanne McCallie said, adding later that she thought Jefferson was key in maintaining the intense full-court press MSU employed in the last few minutes.
Wisconsin did not get a win out of Thursday's efforts—among their best all year—but the game is a confidence-booster for the injury-riddled Badgers, who have lost four of their first five conference games while at times playing with just eight players in the lineup.
The Badgers led 30-26 to open the second half and played tough defense throughout the game, forcing 15 Michigan State turnovers and holding Michigan State to 42 percent shooting.
"Coming out in the second half, I think the confidence that we're up at halftime against this ranked team, they have the ball first, let's get a defensive stop initially," Stone said. "I mean, we did. We sparked some offense, we come down and hit some shots and we had a nice lead."
Anderson injures eye; Banks out Sunday
Anderson sustained an eye injury early in the second half while grabbing a rebound but still played 39 minutes and missed just more than a minute to get her eye fixed up.
"I went up for a rebound and I think I got a fingernail coming down in my eye," Anderson said. "But the trainers—Karen (Bloch), she's awesome. She fixed me up in less than a minute and I was back on the court. But I don't think it affected me at all. That's just something that I brushed off. I didn't worry about my eye the rest of the game and that's just something that the injuries like our team does, we don't let it bother us whether we're in the game. We let it bother us after."
Senior forward Annie Nelson played just three minutes in her return from a right shoulder injury.