It's safe to say this season hasn't been easy on the Wisconsin women's basketball team, but all of that changed a bit on Thursday night as the Badgers (10-11, 2-6 B1G) earned their biggest victory of the Bobbie Kelsey era, taking down No. 7 Penn State, 63-61 on the strength of a last second rebound and put back by Tiera Stephen and a career high 33 points from guard Morgan Paige. To say this was a meaningful win for the Badgers may be putting it lightly.
"It means a lot for us, I'm not going to downplay it, it's huge for our team," said head coach Bobbie Kelsey following the game. "It's huge for our confidence, it's huge for our program. To beat a ranked team, a very highly ranked team, it shows our kids that — a lot of people say that 'you don't have anything' — no, we have plenty."
No doubt this was a shocking win, not only in it's last second nature, but because just two weeks ago at Penn State the Badgers were beaten soundly, 84-40. It was also the first win over a ranked opponent in the Kelsey era and the first since a 48-45 win over Michigan State back on January 14, 2010. In fact, "shocking" is about the right word to describe how coach Kelsey felt following the game.
"All I can say is 'wow'. That was awesome," said Kelsey. "I'm really proud of this team. Again, I've been saying it a lot lately, we just persevered and we got through adversity. These kids really believe they can win these games and we believe they can do it, and when they finally see it for themselves, we can hold them to that standard now."
Wisconsin has been waiting for Morgan Paige to let loose on more than one occasion and she picked a perfect time to do just that, dropping those 33 points on 11-19 shooting and delighting a home crowd of 3,602 people at the Kohl Center.
The loss was Penn State's 1st of the Big Ten season as they dropped to 17-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. It also dropped the Nittany Lions into a 1st place tie with Purdue in the conference standings
Lest you think it was just about Paige for the Badgers, they proved why the team is bigger than just one part as Tiera Stephen set a career high with 11 rebounds, none bigger than the one she snagged and put back in for the game winner with six seconds left in the game. Other than that basket Stephen only had 3 other points for 5 total on the night.
Paige combined with Jacki Gulczynski (16 points) for 49 of UW's 63 points, while Penn State countered with three players in triple digits, led by Maggie Lucas' 18 points.
Just how tight was this game? Well, both teams had 12 free throw attempts (UW made one more) and Wisconsin made just one more three pointer than the Nittany Lions. The biggest disparity came in the fact that 14 more field goals in the game.
All that goes to show just how efficient Wisconsin's offense was, shooting 50% from the field (21-41) and finally winning the points in the paint battle, 18-16.
Things could've easily turned on their head though as the Badgers were coaxed into 19 turnovers, but limited PSU to just 18 points off of those turnovers. Showing that Wisconsin's defensive effort can pay off as well.
Up next for the Badgers is a visit by Illinois (12-8, 5-3 B1G) to the Kohl Center. Tip off is set for 2pm Central and can be found on the Badger Radio Network.