Women’s basketball falls to Wisconsin

By Anthony Zilis

MADISON, WIS. – The Illinois women’s basketball team looked as if it were still on winter break for much of Sunday’s game at Wisconsin.

But school was in session at the Kohl Center, as the Badgers taught Illinois a lesson or two about the importance of balance and relentless defense in a 61-43 thrashing.

“I give Wisconsin a lot of credit … they set pace and were so aggressive,” forward Jenna Smith said. “They executed, and they got stops when they needed to.”

The Illini were slow out of the gates, as Wisconsin began the game on a 10-0 run. The Illini fought back with an 11-4 run of their own but could never fully close the gap and trailed by 10 at the half.

Smith kept the Illini in the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds and was complemented by Lacey Simpson’s 11 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. But Illinois was stifled by one of the Big Ten’s best defenses and struggled from the field, shooting only 39 percent.

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“I felt in control pretty much the whole game,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. “But when you have (Lacey Simpson) and (Jenna Smith) coming down as a 1-2 punch, that’s something we wanted to address.”

The Badgers have limited their opponents to a Big Ten-best 54.8 points per game and held the Illini to an average of only 40.5 points in two games this season.

“We missed shots that were right there. Give them credit, they doubled Jenna,” Law said. “We had a lot of open shots and we just didn’t hit them.”

Along with stifling defense, the Badgers had five players with at least eight points. That balance has been crucial to a team that lost its top two scorers from last season to graduation. Alyssa Karel led the Badgers with 15 points, including two three pointers in the first two minutes and 30 seconds.

The Badgers gave up just a school-record five turnovers in the game, an accomplishment against an Illini team that has the Big Ten steals leader in Lacey Simpson.

“We weren’t pressuring them, so they weren’t rattled,” Simpson said. “Five turnovers, that’s what happens when you don’t apply that pressure.”

Illinois dropped their ninth straight game and have only three games remaining against teams below .500 in the Big Ten.

But after seeing the Illini twice so far this season, Stone has reiterated the fact that the Illini are a much better team than the numbers show.

“I give Illinois a lot of credit, their record is very deceiving,” Stone said. “They’re going to beat some people … they’ve just got to keep their head up and keep pounding away.”