Two weeks and a new site made a 46-point difference between Penn State and Wisconsin.
Led by Morgan Paige’s career-high 33 points, the Badgers avenged a 44-point loss, stunning the No. 7 Lady Lions 63-61 on Thursday.
Tiera Stephen’s putback with five seconds remaining snapped Penn State’s 11-game winning streak and dropped the Lady Lions (17-3 overall, 7-1 league) back into a first-place tie atop the Big Ten standings with Purdue. Alex Bentley narrowly missed a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington said she was concerned about her squad long before the tip-off at the Kohl Center.
“I don’t think we had enough energy,” Washington said. “We were kind of dragging and sluggish earlier today and it carried over into our performance tonight.”
For the Badgers, the game was all about the scoring of Paige and forward Jacki Gulczynski, who combined for 49 points and went a combined 9-for-15 from 3-point range against a defense that was holding opponents to 27 percent shooting from long distance.
“They did a good job of making the extra pass,” Washington said. “There were a number of times where we were scrambling a little but defensively. We were sluggish from the beginning of the game until the end of the game and they took advantage of that.”
Paige finished 11 of 19 from the floor and made 5 of 10 3-pointers.
“Paige just got free,” Washington said. “She worked hard and she had a spring and a bounce in her step. When kids come home, the basket seems bigger and you have more confidence in making shots. They got out of the gate well early and they played with a lot of confidence.”
Penn State led by as many as six points in the second half, but couldn’t put away Paige, Gulczynski and the Badgers.
Penn State led 57-56 with just under two minutes left when the game turned into a see-saw battle down the stretch.
Gulczynski gave the Badgers a 58-57 lead on a jumper with 1:55 left, but Bentley followed her own miss with a basket to put Penn State back up 59-58.
With the shot clock winding down, Paige nailed a 25-footer that pushed the Wisconsin lead to 61-59 with 58 seconds left. After a Penn State timeout, Bentley scored to tie the game at 61 with 27 seconds left and set the stage for Stephen’s heroics.
With a chance to run out the clock and possibly get Paige another opportunity, the Badgers did neither. Cassie Rochel inexplicably took a jumper with seven seconds left, missing badly, but the 5-foot-7 Stephen took advantage of a poor box out to put the ball back in.
After a timeout, Penn State got the ball to Bentley, who raced upcourt and got off a good shot, but the ball just rolled off. The buzzer sounded before Nikki Greene’s tip-in and the Lady Lions’ win streak was finished.
“I though both our offense and our defense were abysmal,” Washington said. “We had no flow on either end of the floor. We weren’t disruptive on defense. Wisconsin got into a rhythm and stayed in a rhythm. (On offense), we just seemed to be out of sync the whole night. Unlike most of the year when we needed to get stops late in the game, we didn’t get any stops. We had three or four chances in the last two minutes to get a stop or make a play and we gave up two offensive rebounds and they scored on both of them.”
The Lady Lions lacked energy from the start. Wisconsin bolted to a 17-6 lead behind a combined five 3-pointers from Gulczynski and Paige.
The Badgers were still ahead by nine until Dara Taylor and Maggie Lucas triggered a 14-0 run to close out the half and give Penn State a 33-29 halftime lead.
Lucas finished with 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Mia Nickson added 11 and Taylor had 10 (none in the second half).
Greene, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds on Jan. 17 against the Badgers, was held to one point and six rebounds and along with Lucas committed five turnovers.
The Badgers (9-11, 2-6) shot 50 percent (21 of 42) against a Penn State defense that had been holding foes to 38 percent.
Washington, whose team will next face No. 14 Purdue (18-3, 7-1) for the only time this season, has preached the strength of the Big Ten and her club saw that Thursday.
“Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter what you’re ranked,” Washington said. “Wisconsin has a lot of pride. They’ve got a good coach (Bobbie Kelsey) and they came to play. They just had a lot more energy and intensity than we did on this night. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got another game on Monday. We have to regroup and get ready for Purdue.”