Posted-March 7th, 2013 12:48
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. --With the game on the line, Morgan Paige came up big with a pair of free throws to elevate the Badgers to a 58-57 victory over Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday afternoon. With the win, Wisconsin advances to the second round of play where it will face Purdue at approximately 2 p.m. on Friday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
A 3-pointer by Illinois’ Amber Moore with 42 seconds remaining in the game appeared to seal the Badgers’ fate, but fouls -- a factor all game --gave the Badgers’ back the advantage. Tessa Cichy, in her first career start, netted a pair of free throws to bring the score within one, 57-56, before Paige hit the game winner from the line.
It was a victory the Badgers had been waiting for all season.
“It feels great,” said head coach Bobbie Kelsey after the game. “We almost gave it away. But, again, when you’ve got kids that are playing a lot of minutes, young ones, … it's a lot against us -- but we don't dwell on it. We just keep playing. And even though we've lost five in a row up to this game, you've got one more, you could still win it, and you gotta keep playing.”
After a sluggish first half that saw the Badgers trail by 10 (30-20) at the break, Wisconsin (12-18) came alive in the second 20 minutes, outscoring Illinois (16-13) 38-27 in the second stanza.
The Illini opened the half with a free throw to take its largest lead of the game, 31-20, before the Badgers got to work. UW used a 6-0 run to get back in the game, 31-26, just past the 17-minute mark.
Paige found an opportune time to score her first field goal of the game, netting a layup at the 11:45 mark to give the Badgers a 37-36 lead. A 3-pointer by Paige a minute later put UW up 40-36.
Illinois battled back to reclaim the lead 42-41, but the Badgers weren’t backing down. With the game tied at 42 at the 9:03 mark, the Badgers opened up a 14-2 scoring run to jump ahead by 10, 54-44, with six minutes to go.
Illinois slowly chipped away at the lead as the Badgers’ offense stalled and the Illini fought to tie the game at 54-54 with 1:23 to go. Free throws, by Cichy and Paige, proved to be the difference as Wisconsin netted four in the final 42 seconds to earn the 58-57 win.
Paige was ready for her opportunity at the line.
“I know that I'm one of the better free throw shooters on the team and I had to relax and pretend like nobody else was out there,” Paige said about her trip to the line. “After I hit the first one I felt it a little less. And then the second one went down and I'm like, pick up, don't foul, don't foul. That was the mind process.”
Paige finished with a game high 18 points, scoring 12 in the second half. Free throws kept Paige in the game, as she was 10-for-10 from the line.
Jacki Gulczynski finished with 15 points and Cassie Rochel netted a double-double, with 10 points and 13 rebounds, to lead all players on the boards.
Wisconsin held Illinois to a 32.2 percent (19-of-59) shooting performance, forcing 11 Illini turnovers.
The Badgers shot 17-of-45 (37.8 percent) from the field, with an impressive 11-of-22 (50 percent) performance in the second half. UW shot a school record 21-of-21 from the free throw line.
The Illini forced 25 Badger turnovers, netting 26 points off of the change of possession. But the Badgers won the battle under the boards, pulling down 41 rebounds to Illinois’ 29.
Fouls played a key role in the game as Illinois’ leading scorer, Karisma Penn, picked up three fouls in the first half and played on 22 minutes. She finished with just eight points, more than 11 points below her season average. Penn fouled out when she contacted Paige with three seconds remaining, sending the Badger to the line. Alexis Smith also fouled out for the Illini.