Head coach Kate Popovec-Goss was 5-0 against Wisconsin during her time at Northwestern, but it didn’t help her lead Bradley women’s basketball to a win Wednesday night in Madison.
In the second game of a home-and-home between the Badgers and Braves, Wisconsin (3-1) got their revenge on Bradley (0-3) by winning 103-49.
While last year’s matchup was highlighted by nine 3-pointers from the Braves in their win, this season’s involved 14 from the Badgers as they shot nearly 64 percent from beyond the arc. They also shot around the same mark from the floor compared to Bradley’s 41 and 31 percent marks, respectively.
“I don’t think our kids were really locked in to what we were trying to do,” Popovec-Goss said. “We talked a lot about protecting the 3-point line and stopping them in transition, and the first play of the game we gave up a shot that we had scouted against 100 times in practice.”
After the Badgers made a jumper to start the game, sophomore guard Caroline Waite hit a 3-pointer in the early moments to give Bradley their only lead. It lasted a total of 23 seconds, as Wisconsin’s Maty Wilke scored three of her 17 points to jump back in front.
Three more baskets from downtown and two fast break jumpers from Avery LaBarbera extended Wisconsin’s lead to 18-5 with 5:18 left in the first, causing Popovec-Goss to burn a timeout. Six Bradley turnovers – five of which were Badger steals – helped the home team extend their lead to 15 and the first quarter ended with a dominating 30-12 Wisconsin advantage.
The second quarter was identical to the first in terms of points, as the deficit was 60-24 when the halftime horn sounded. Wisconsin had 12 steals in the half, resulting in 16 Bradley turnovers – three more than the Braves’ entire game against South Dakota. Freshman guard Reagan Barkema drained two threes to try and provide a spark for the Braves, but the Badgers went on a 20-2 run to close out the frame.
“We just need to focus on that specifically; taking care of the ball at all times,” junior forward Isis Fitch said.
Wisconsin then went on another tear out of the locker room, catching fire on a 12-0 run behind six points from Serah Williams, who finished with a game-high 18. The teams traded blows from that point on, but the damage was already inflicted.
“I felt like we had a little bit more energy in the second half but at the end of the day, I think tonight was just not our best effort and we have to learn from it,” Popovec-Goss said. “We’ve got a great group of kids and the biggest thing we have to do is get them to believe in what we’re doing.”
Despite only shooting 25 percent from three up to this point in the season, the Badgers’ high marks from the field along with their 28 fast break points proved to be too much for the visitors. The turnover margin did improve in the second half, as the Braves only coughed it up twice compared to Wisconsin’s five instances.
“We had a sense of urgency and we made it a strong effort to take care of the ball,” Fitch said. “Whether it was our guards bringing it up or the post having it and being strong with it no matter what, I definitely think we can keep this up.”
Three of those nine 3-pointers in last season’s battle came from the hand of Waite, and she followed it up with three more in this one, ending with 11 points. Fitch tied Waite for the team-lead in buckets, which was also good enough for her season high. Sophomore guard Alex Rouse added eight points and four assists.
Bradley got contributions from the entire team, as 10 Braves notched over 10 minutes of playing time – totaling 16 points off the bench. Barkema and sophomore Katy Wade notched the first points of their collegiate careers, junior college transfer Megan Barton picked up her first baskets as a Brave and sophomore Callie Ziebell celebrated the return to her home state with a team-leading six rebounds and three steals.
“It was really important and a great opportunity for them and I felt that they took advantage of it,” Popovec-Goss said. “I thought they played really hard and they gave us a spark of energy.”
Facing off against two Power Five squads and a Sweet 16 team from last season in their first three games, Bradley is hoping to have an easier stretch leading into December with McNeese State, Missouri Baptist and Kansas City due up on the schedule. In hopes they can brush this and the rest of the losses off, Popovec-Goss wants to see her team get back on track.
“I think this one game was a blip on the radar,” Popovec-Goss said. “I felt, up until this point, our kids were really invested in the process and continuing to get better at each practice, each shootaround and even learning from game one and game two. I hope we can carry that forward because I think we have a great stretch and I think if we can kind of regain some confidence and figure some things out we can have a really successful non-conference season.”
With three tough games under her belt as a head coach, Popovec-Goss is excited for what’s next.
“It’s been an adventure, for sure,” Popovec-Goss said. “I’m loving being at Bradley and I’m loving the challenges ahead. I signed up for something that I knew wasn’t gonna be easy and that’s ok. There’s beauty in the challenges and I think we’re gonna embrace them together.”
For the second consecutive year, Bradley will play downtown at Carver Arena as they take on McNeese State on Saturday at 12 p.m.