The Crimson, winners of just one game in its first eight contests, took on a Badgers squad that had won 10 straight and was a perfect 7-0 at home.
Streaking Wisconsin (11-2) bested Harvard 86-66 behind aggressive transition offense and sharp-shooting guards Janese Banks and Jolene Anderson, who were a combined 17-of-23 from the floor and scored 46 points.
The Crimson (1-8) put forth its best total offensive effort of the season, but spotty zone defense in the first half led to three Wisconsin three-pointers in the first five minutes.
“There were a lot of defensive breakdowns in general,” co-captain Christiana Lackner said. “We started out in a 2-3 zone and they abused it and hit some threes. That got them off to a quick start.”
Banks nailed two quick threes and Anderson added another to give the Badgers an early 11-7 lead. A subsequent jumper by sophomore Niki Finelli at 15:58 brought the Crimson to within two—the closest Harvard would get to the lead for the rest of the night.
“That was the difference,” sophomore forward Katie Rollins said. “We were responding with two pointers to three pointers and after a little while we found ourselves in a big deficit.
Banks scored five quick points—including a trio on an old-fashioned three-point play—to push the lead to 31-21, and her jumper at 3:24 left in the first half gave the Badgers a double-digit lead for good.
Rollins poured in 12 first-half points to keep the Crimson in the game early, netting three consecutive baskets in the paint in the game’s opening minutes. Harvard held its own in the post all night and finished with 28 points in the paint to the Badgers’ 30. Rollins finished with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Finelli led Harvard with 19 points and sophomore guard Emily Tay chipped in 15.
“Katie rattled off a lot of points in the first half and that led us to a good start,” Lackner said. “But it’s hard, because it feels like we make one adjustment and take one step forward in one aspect of the game and then something we thought we’d improved upon failed.”
Against the athletic Badgers, it was the defense that couldn’t contain one of the most athletic backcourts in the Big 10. Anderson and Banks had 32 first half points between them, and Wisconsin shot a blistering 59.3 percent from the field in the opening frame.
Harvard responded on offense with a 45.0 percent clip on the night, but untimely breakdowns and a deafening pro-Wisconsin crowd made for a long night on the defensive end.
The Badgers broke the game open with a 15-0 run to begin the second half, propelled by a pair of back-to-back three pointers from Anderson and Mariah Dunham. Five Wisconsin players scored in the stretch before Anderson capped off the run with another three to make it 61-38 with 12:02 left in the game.
“Every game it seems like we have a five- or six-minute period where there are some defensive breakdowns and a few turnovers, and all of a sudden we look up and we’re down 15,” Rollins said. “And when you’re going up against a Big 10 team like that, you can’t afford a lackadaisical five minutes.”
—Staff writer Aidan E, Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.