MADISON—The Badger women’s basketball team was wearing its home jerseys and fans were clearly rooting for Wisconsin but Illinois acted like it owned Kohl Center court Sunday afternoon here. The Badgers lost their fourth straight conference game, falling to Illinois 84-54 in what was their worst loss to Illinois in almost 30 years and their worst loss this season.
For the Illini, freshman guard Lori Bjork hit 5 of 6 3-pointers en route to a game and career-high 24 points while senior guard Janelle Hughes finished with 16 points. Senior guard Maggie Acuna chipped in 16 assists, an Illini and Kohl Center record, while Illinois (12-4 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) had 25 assists and 15 turnovers as a team. And the Illini shot 58 percent from the field, making 34 of their 59 attempts—including 11 of 16 from beyond the arc. All were indicators of a sign of something missing: Wisconsin’s defense.
“What do we spend most of our time on in practice? It’s defense,” Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. “So the disappointment with my staff, particularly Tasha McDowell, who is claiming the defense—granted, it’s my program—but between Tasha and Donna (Freitag) and (Stephanie Schmitz) and myself, we work on defense almost the entire practice. And to see that type of performance, it’s as if we never did it all.”
Players blamed some of Wisconsin’s poor defensive performance on a lack of communication and a lack of effort.
“We’ve just got to communicate more on the defensive end,” said sophomore guard Jolene Anderson, who led her team with 16 points and was the only Badger to finish in double digits. “Our offense will come with us but it’s just letting your teammate know that you have the outside or you know if they get beat, you have to pick them up and somebody has to drop down in the hole. So it’s just communicating on the defensive end.”
“We didn’t have the full-out effort that we wanted tonight, that’s for sure” senior guard Ashley Josephson said. “There’s a lot of things that come with defense and you can’t always blame it on effort. But tonight, you can definitely say it was partly effort.”
Illinois took advantage of Wisconsin’s early turnovers and foul trouble to propel itself to a 24-8 lead with 10:44 left in the first half. Junior forward Audrey Tabon, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, drew a foul and hit two free throws to key a 14-4 run. Illinois was able to build a lead behind Bjork, who hit 3 of 4 3-pointers and racked up a game-high 13 points at the half.
“We came in for a shoot-around last night and sometimes the ball just feels good coming off your hand and that was definitely the case yesterday and today,” Bjork said. “Sometimes shooting is contagious like that. Once one person starts hitting them, then the whole team feels a lot of confidence with their shot and that’s what happened with us, I thought.”
UW, which played Michigan State point-for-point before losing 69-63 on Thursday, let Illinois take a commanding lead before attempting a comeback. With her team down 24-8, Josephson hit a 3-pointer to key a UW 14-5 run, which included 3-pointers from sophomore guard Shari’ Welton and Anderson. That brought UW to within a 29-22 deficit with 6:29 left. The Badgers entered the half down 39-30.
Illinois made it a priority to start the second half strong, according to head coach Theresa Grentz. The Illini did just that, going on an 11-0 run to start the second half before sophomore forward Danielle Ward finally scored the Badgers’ first basket after halftime. With 15:19 left UW trailed 50-32. Facing pressure from the Illinois defense, UW failed to hit several inside shots early in the second half.
“We missed some early layups in the second half,” Stone said. “That 11-0 run occurred and I think we had (freshman forward) Caitlin (Gibson) on the inside three times, missed it. Those were good looks. We took it to the basket, we started attacking a little more, we got to the free-throw line one more time than our opponent, which is unusual.”
Illinois continued its run after Ward’s layup, going on a 10-0 spurt to go ahead 60-32. After the initial 11-0 run to start the half, Illinois never led by less than 18, with the game’s largest lead coming at 82-48 with 2:31 left.
Wisconsin shot 37 percent from the field, as the Illini held the Badgers to a season-low point total. The Illini out-rebounded Wisconsin 33-30. And the Badgers committed 19 turnovers, which the Illini turned into 28 points.
But the offense wasn’t the real problem this game.
“The cohesiveness was not there on the defensive end,” Stone said.
Box score (pdf)