Bradley women’s basketball (3-0) rose to the occasion of hosting a Big 10 opponent for the first time since 2013, defeating Wisconsin 64-57 in a back-and-forth battle on Friday night at Renaissance Coliseum.
One player in particular shined in the spotlight, as 5th year Gabi Haack scored 24 points to become the Braves’ all-time leading scorer – passing Karen Anderson’s mark of 1,679 points, which stood since 1983.
“I’m just really happy for Gabi,” Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski said. “As a Bradley alum, there’s no better person I’d rather have the record than Gabi. She’s done it the right way, and done it with a lot of wins behind her, too.”
The record breaking moment came with 7:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, as Haack sank a 3-ball from the deep right wing to put the Braves ahead 53-48.
“I did feel the energy in the gym, it was just a little louder than normal, so that felt really good,” Haack said of the historic moment.
From that point on, Bradley’s lead didn’t shrink below three points. However, the contest was far from smooth sailing for either side as the lead changed hands 11 times throughout the battle.
In front of a crowd of 741, including a rowdy student section led by Bradley’s baseball team, the Braves encountered a rocky start. After falling behind 11-4 at the 4:40 mark of the opening quarter, Gorski burned a timeout.
Out of the break, Bradley turned on the jets and rattled off an 8-0 run, started by a 3-pointer from senior guard Chloe Rice, to snatch a 12-11 lead before the quarter break.
“I thought we were very stiff,” Gorski said. “Our cuts were tentative, our passes were tentative, our shots were tentative… We just needed one to fall.”
The Badgers responded with a big second quarter, opening up the scoring column after a defense-dominated first quarter. Wisconsin shot 9-14 in the frame, including 3-5 from deep – punctuated by a corner 3 from senior guard Katie Nelson seconds before the halftime buzzer.
Trailing 32-29 at the break, Bradley was in need of some adjustments, especially in the frontcourt, as Wisconsin dominated points in the paint 20-6.
“We just knew we needed to wall up better,” junior forward Sierra Morrow, who scored 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, said. “Coach got on us at halftime about that, and we just fixed it.”
In the second half, Bradley’s defense stymied the Badgers. The Braves held them to a 29% field goal percentage in the final two frames.
Much of that started on the interior, as the Braves collected five blocks, four from Morrow and one emphatic denial from Tete Danso with 3:32 remaining in the fourth, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a block like that,” Gorski said. “That was pretty awesome.”
Entering the fourth quarter with a 45-44 lead, Haack helped the Braves turn up an extra gear in the final period.
After Wisconsin leading scorer Sydney Hilliard scored the first two buckets of the frame to put the Badgers back in front 48-45, Haack responded in a big way.
With the shot clock winding down, senior Tatum Koenig heaved a pass across the court to Haack, who launched a three from six feet beyond the arc and banked it in to tie the game.
“I knew the time on the shot clock was down, but when I shot it, it felt good,” Haack said. “But when it banked in, I was like ‘oh.’ But you know, a shot that goes in, goes in, so it counts. But I didn’t think it was going to be a bank.”
Moments later, she knocked down two free throws, which would put the Braves in the catbird seat for good. 50 seconds after the freebies, Haack nailed her record breaking three off an assist from sophomore Isis Fitch to complete a personal 8-0 run.
Following a brief game ball presentation and public address announcement at the ensuing media timeout, the Elk River, Minnesota native turned in six more points, all on free throws, to seal the power-five victory.
“Getting the ‘W’ is always number one to me, that was a really good team win tonight – a lot of people stepped up,” Haack said. “Individually, it’s a really good feeling. I wouldn’t be here without my coaches, teammates and family, so I’m really thankful for them.”
“I’m just glad Gabi got the record with a win, because she wouldn’t want it any other way,” Gorski added.
The victory marks Bradley’s first win over a Big 10 opponent since a 98-92 win over Illinois on Nov. 8, 2013. However, for Gorski and company, it’s no upset.
“We expected to win this game,” Gorski said. “If you get skilled kids that hate to lose, usually good things happen. It’s hats off to our student athletes… We’ve got the right kids that want to win and they love wearing the Bradley jersey.”
The Braves will try to parlay the victory into prolonged success, as the team hits the road for four of the next five games, starting with a matchup at Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. on Monday.
“I’m glad we got the win, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Gorski said.