"Tonight's game was just what the doctor ordered for us," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "Our basketball team needed to be filled with some confidence and indeed we found some."
So what happens when Wisconsin accomplishes all its game goals—holding their opponent to under 50 points, out-rebounding them by 10 and forcing more than 20 turnovers?
"Yeah, what happens?" Badger freshman forward Caitlin Gibson asked with a laugh.
What happens? The Badgers get a day off. Wisconsin will not practice Tuesday and will begin preparing Wednesday for its Thursday road game at Ohio State. Granted, the Badgers had previously scheduled Jan. 24 as a rest day. But now the team can relish in its first win since New Year's Day.
"It's an accomplishment," Stone said. "We won the game because we accomplished some game goals."
The Badgers (7-12) held their opponent to under 50 points for just the second time this year, while forcing 22 Panther turnovers and out-rebounding them 47-33. Wisconsin capitalized on the Panthers' 22 turnovers, too, creating 30 points. The Badgers recorded a season-best 13 steals.
Wisconsin used its size to crash the boards: 6-foot-4 Gibson and 6-1 forward Jordan Wilson finished with nine rebounds apiece while 5-11 forward Kjersten Bakke added eight. With 10 points, Gibson finished one rebound short of her first career double-double.
"I came out of intermission wanting to take two of their 6-4 kids and put one of my jerseys on them," EIU coach Brady Sallee said, when asked if he wanted to make adjustments at halftime. His two tallest players—freshmen forwards Julie Lipperd and Rachel Galligan—stood at a listed 6-2 each. Galligan put up 11 points and added six rebounds, while Lipperd played just five minutes.
UW held a comfortable 37-24 lead at the half after taking an early 13-4 lead. Sophomore guard Jolene Anderson shot 4 of 9 to lead Wisconsin with 10 points at the half. She finished with a game-high 23 points on 8 of 17 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
Eastern Illinois cut Wisconsin's lead to 45-36 in the second half with a jumper from Ellen Canale but Badger freshman guard Christine Spencer knocked down a 3-pointer on the following possession that kicked off a 14-6 UW run. That gave UW a 59-42 cushion with 7:23 left. The Badgers steadily built their lead from there.
Sophomore forward Danielle Ward finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and a career-high five steals, and Spencer notched a career-high 10 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
"Coming off the bench, I really tried to bring a lot of energy to the team," Spencer said. "I tried to rebound because whenever we out-rebound a team, we usually win. So I tried to play the best defense I possibly could and bring a lot of energy."
UW was hot from beyond the arc, sinking 5 of 8 for a season-high 63 percent. UW's reserves also came to bat Monday, scoring 29 points off the bench.
With a focus on all things defense, the Badgers, particularly Anderson, limited senior guard Megan Sparks to just nine points in 30 minutes, well below her team-high average of 16.9 points per game. Canale finished with a team-high 13 points but found herself in foul trouble late in the game and fouled out with 2:32 left.
"I thought they did a good job on Megan Sparks, understanding that she was our big gun," Sallee said. "Megan's done a very, very good job this year of playing against the other team's best defender every night and she's seen it for 19 games now… Give Wisconsin a lot of credit for knowing who she was… I thought Jolene did a very good job on her."