By Caleb Lynn | @CalebLynn1
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – In the past four years, a 13th-seeded team never won a game in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament. On Thursday, Wisconsin did it for the second consecutive day.
The Badgers defeated fifth-seeded Ohio State, 73-63, for their fifth victory in the last ten conference tournaments and will have a chance to advance to a semifinal for the first time since 2010.
Wisconsin (15-17) will meet fourth-seeded Michigan in the second game of the afternoon quarterfinal doubleheader on Friday.
Before Wisconsin’s first-round victory over Penn State, No. 13 teams had lost the four previous games since the addition of Rutgers and Maryland expanded the field in 2015.
The Badgers committed just five turnovers, which equaled the fewest in a game in program history and tied the fewest in a game in Big Ten tournament history.
Wisconsin senior forwards Kelly Karlis and Marsha Howard were able to deliver in huge moments that gave the Badgers the upper hand. Karlis led Wisconsin with a career-high 24 points. Howard equaled her career high with 23 points and had 11 rebounds. The Badgers, who trailed by as many as 13 points, dominated the second half by outscoring Ohio State, 51-31.
“I thought we gained strength from our defense today,” said Wisconsin coach Jonathan Tsipis. “…Last week we scored 50 points against Ohio State in a game, and we get 51 in the second half. You could just see the confidence building and building.”
Ohio State (14-14) the 2018 tournament champion, failed to reach a quarterfinal game for the first time in 25 Big Ten tournaments. The Buckeyes had reached the semifinal round in the past five tournaments, including two championship game appearances. “We’ve had success at this tournament, and we didn’t have it today,” said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff. “But as I told them, we didn’t play hard enough in the second half, and you don’t get a chance to do it over.”
Ohio State freshman guard Dorka Juhasz had 16 rebounds, which tied for the ninth-highest total in tournament history. Juhasz scored 10 points on 2-for-6 shooting.
Karlis delivered every time Wisconsin needed a bucket, making seven of 12 shots including all four 3-point shots. In the first-round game against Penn State, Karlis made just two of nine shots, but she did not back down when they needed her the most.
“Coach always believes in us,” Karlis said, “We were all calm, cool, and collected and we knew we had some fight in us.”
Howard made just three of 11 shots in the first half, but like Karlis, she was not giving up on her team. In Howard’s mind, it was all about advancing to the quarterfinals.
“We knew we could do it,” she said, “Our heads were held high and we just talked about one stop, one basket.”
Tsipis added that in the first half the Badgers were taking too many jump shots and the credit should go to Ohio State for that. But in the second half, the goal was to tell his players to think about getting three stops in a row and then go from there.
Based on the stats, it seemed as if his players were able to get the message. Ohio State made 41.4 percent of its shots in the first half and 29.4 percent after halftime. Wisconsin, a 39.5-percent shooting team this season, made 15-of-27, or 55 percent, in the second half.
“It’s a competitive conference,” Howard said. “It’s what I live for. The love and the will that I have for this game is just tremendous, and to be able to be here with these ladies and these coaches, to be able to fight to the finish and finish out strong as a senior, it means a lot.”