Badgers open up Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament with win
NASHVILLE, Ten. -- After a weeklong break from action, the Wisconsin women's basketball team shook off the dust and got back into winning form with a 77-72 win over Mercer at the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament Friday night. The Badgers led from beginning to end to advance to the championship game Saturday evening against Vanderbilt inside Memorial Gym.
"We are glad to get the win," UW head coach Bobbie Kelsey said after the game. "Obviously we want to make sure we take care of that before we worry about other things."
Seven quick points and tight defense saw the Badgers (4-1) take a 7-0 lead early in the first half. Mercer (3-3) finally came to life at the 17-minute mark with a jumper, sparking seven quick points to get within two, 9-7, at the 15:59 mark of the first half.
The score remained tight until back-to-back 3-pointers by Jacki Gulczynski and Taylor Wurtz created some separation (21-13) just past the 12-minute mark.
A 3-pointer by Wurtz with two seconds remaining gave the Badgers a 39-31 lead heading into half. Wurtz scored 20 of her team-high 24 points in the first 20 minutes of action.
A quick layup by Gulczynski opened the second half of play and gave Wisconsin a 10-point (41-31) lead. Precious Bridges brought the Bears within five, 44-39, at the 17:06 mark.
Michala Johnson netted two of her 21 points with just over seven minutes remaining to give the Badgers a 16 point, 60-44, lead.
Mercer refused to give up, cutting the Badgers' lead to eight twice. A pair of free throws by Bridges with 33 seconds remaining got the Bears within six, 75-69. Nicole Bauman put the game on ice with a pair of free throws six seconds later.
A last second 3-pointer by Bridges ended the game 77-72 in favor of Wisconsin.
"I thought people stepped up," said Kelsey. "I had a talk with our big four, Morgan (Paige), Taylor, Jacki and Mick (Michala Johnson) and told them they have to produce for us. They are the best scorers on our team and they give us the lift that we need. Three of them did come through. Morgan had a tough game shooting, but she didn't get a lot of shots, but that's okay. But I said, three of you four have to do something out here. You can't just be out here and not producing. And they did that.
"I thought Mick had a big second half. She showed that she can make some post moves against a bigger kid. This is going to build her confidence for later on."
Wurtz poured in a season-high 24 points, while Johnson added 21 and Gulczynski finished with 13. Wurtz and Gulczynski pulled down double-digit rebounds with 14 and 12 boards, respectively.
Wisconsin finished the night shooting 27-of-63 (42.9 percent) from the field, including a 7-of-18 performance beyond the arc.
Mercer went 29-of-64 (45.3 percent) from the floor, making just 3-of-14 from 3-point range. The Bears were led by Bridges' game-high 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
The Badgers shot 80 percent (16-of-20) from the free throw line, while the Bears went 11-of-12 (91.7 percent) from the charity stripe.
Wisconsin grabbed 46 boards, including 20 on the offensive end of the floor. Mercer grabbed 29 rebounds.
The Bears turned the ball over only five times while the Badgers has 13 giveaways.
Wisconsin will take the court against host Vanderbilt on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the championship game of the tournament.
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