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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern’s third-quarter run fuels miraculous 70-67 comeback win

The 17-0 run in the third quarter made all the difference.

Phenomenal. Incredible. Unbelievable.

There are only so many words that can describe the events that occurred Sunday afternoon, where the Wildcats fought throughout despite a 16-point deficit to take down the Badgers. It may have been a battle at the bottom of the Big Ten, but a win is a win, and Northwestern (8-13, 1-9 B1G) won its first conference game of the season, defeating the Wisconsin Badgers (7-15, 2-8 B1G) by the score of 70-67.

Paige Mott kept Northwestern close early and impacted the game all the way through, totaling 23 points and nine boards (six of which were offensive). Additionally, Caleigh Walsh caught fire in the second half with 18 points and hit three three-pointers, despite fouling out late in the fourth. Caroline Lau also provided a spark off the bench early and served as the closer for the ‘Cats in this one.

For the Badgers, Serah Williams had herself an afternoon, scoring 21 points on just 13 attempts. Avery LaBarbera also had quite the day despite the loss, and totaled 11 points, nine boards and six assists

Right from the jump, the Wildcats were in a big hole. After winning the opening tip, the Badgers immediately gained the lead. Williams worked her way into the post, eventually earning a hook shot and-one to go up three. On the next three possessions, Julie Pospisilova swished a pull-up jumper before Brooke Schramek drilled a three, then LaBarbera added a triple of her own. Following a Williams layup, the Wildcats were in a 13-0 hole less than three minutes in and were forced to call a timeout.

After the break, Northwestern’s offense was finally able to get on the board, as Mott hit a pair of free throws and a layup on the following possessions. A missed Badger three resulted in a Lau rebound and transition opportunity, as she found Sydney Wood for a jumper. On the ensuing ‘Cats possessions, Mott continued to keep Northwestern in the game through the offensive boards and the charity stripe, finishing the opening quarter with eight points and four boards to cut the Badgers lead to five, 20-15. The ‘Cats’ defense allowed only two points in the final 7:14 of the quarter, in large part due to their three first quarter steals and only one foul.

To open the second, the Wildcats missed four consecutive attempts, before Walsh was able to get on the board from the line three minutes into the quarter. The Badgers, on the other hand, had a much hotter start to the period as a result of Pospisilova making two mid-range jumpers and Williams converting down low. Wisconsin’s lead had ballooned back up to double-digits at the TV timeout with four minutes left in the half, 30-18, with Northwestern having more offensive rebounds (five) than points (three) thus far in the quarter.

Wisconsin further extended their lead with a LaBarbera three-pointer from the wing and found Schramek for a layup soon after. Northwestern’s full-court press brought a spark to the team and allowed them to get into transition to cut the Badgers’ lead back to 10. However, Sania Copeland hit a deep three-pointer just before halftime to give Wisconsin a 39-26 lead going into the break.

At the half, Wisconsin had converted on 50% of its first-half three-pointers, in contrast to Northwestern, who converted only one of it’s 12 attempts from beyond the arc. In the entire second quarter, the Wildcats made just two shots.

To begin the second half, Rainey provided a much need spark by turning defense into offense and brought the ‘Cats two easy baskets, finding Jasmine McWilliams for a layup and converting one of her own. The Badgers were forced to call a timeout with their lead being cut to 41-31.

After an errant catch by Rainey, she got it right back by stripping Copeland, which eventually resulted in a Mott basket. It was at this moment that the ‘Cats’ full-court press began to reap the fruits of its labor and forced three turnovers on the next four Badger possessions. Walsh certainly took advantage. After her 1-of-10 start from the field, Walsh hit back-to-back threes and a layup to tie up the ball game at 41 all. Electing to not call timeout, a seemingly panicked Badger team turned the ball over on the inbound to Hailey Weaver, who put the ‘Cats ahead for the time, 43-41. At the media timeout, Northwestern found itself on a 17-0 run.

The Badgers offense finally got back on track, with help from a Maty Wilke three-pointer. Despite this, Walsh continued to cook, as she hit another three and converted a layup on consecutive possessions. Walsh’s offense was not translating to the defensive end, with little effort being shown in defending WIlliams, who scored six straight on Walsh to give Wisconsin the lead and momentum to end the third. That being said, in a quarter that began with Wisconsin going up 16, Northwestern seemed pleased to find itself only down six heading into the final 10, 56-50.

The fourth quarter began with the teams trading layups, with Williams continuing to dominate for Wisconsin and Mott adding in two for Northwestern. On the Badgers’ second possession of the period, Williams went down holding her left ankle and had to be helped into the locker room. After the teams traded baskets once again, Wisconsin shifted to a two-three zone defense that Northwestern capitalized on nonetheless, with Mott finding Wood for a layup. Even after this basket, Joe McKeown called for a timeout as Northwestern trailed 61-56.

This timeout allowed the ‘Cats to set up their press, as they forced Pospisilova into a tough shot, resulting in a transition opportunity for Rainey where she found Wood for a corner three. The ‘Cats’ defense was much less successful over the next few minutes, with LaBarbera breaking the press to perfection, assisting Wilke on a corner three of her own and finding Pospisilova on a pretty pass for a layup, keeping Wisconsin ahead 66-63.

Williams was able to reenter the game after taping up her ankle, and she picked up right where she left off, forcing the fourth foul on Walsh. Williams missed both attempts and allowed Northwestern to cut the Badgers’ lead to one, with a beautiful over the shoulder pass from Lau to Mott after a pick-and-roll. After her assist, Lau didn’t give up in transition defensively and secured the rebound on the play after an errant Rainey pass. Lau’s impact did not stop there, as she hit a corner three-pointer to put the ‘Cats up two with less than two minutes left, 68-66.

The ensuing possessions resulted in missed shots on difficult attempts for both teams, as Wisconsin found itself down two with the ball and 26 seconds remaining. The Badgers’ possession was not prettiest, but Walsh bailed out Wisconsin with her fifth foul to send LaBarbera to the line with nine seconds left. She hit the first but not the second, and two free throws from Jillian Brown secured the comeback win.

Northwestern hopes to bring this momentum of two straight wins to State College on Thursday, when the Wildcats face the Penn State Nittany Lions at 6 p.m. CST.