NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Mercer women's basketball team gave Wisconsin all it could handle before eventually dropping a 77-72 decision to the Badgers in the semifinals of the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday evening at Memorial Gym.
Despite shooting a season-best 45.3 percent from the field, Mercer (3-3) was done in due in large part to Wisconsin's (4-1) work on the glass. The Badgers out-rebounded the Bears 46-29 overall which led to 22 second-chance points for Wisconsin in the win.
Junior Precious Bridges had a season-high 28 points to lead all scorers in the contest. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native was 11-of-20 from the field, 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and chipped in two steals in the game.
Juniors Briana Williams and Alicia Williams joined Bridges in double-figures with 12 points apiece in the loss.
"I thought our effort was there the entire night," said head coach Susie Gardner. "When we got down by 16 in the second half old Mercer teams of the past would have just given up, but this team kept fighting and kept the effort up for 40 minutes."
Things didn't start out well for Mercer, as Wisconsin ripped off a 7-0 run to begin the game. The Bears fought back, however, using a straightaway three-pointer by Bridges to make the score 9-7 Badgers with 15:59 left in the first half.
Wisconsin continued to stay hot offensively in the early goings, using the long ball to dictate play. Back-to-back three-pointers by junior Jacki Gulczynski and senior Taylor Wurtz made the score 21-13 with 11:49 to go in the first half.
Mercer kept within striking distance though, capitalizing on a lay-in by Briana Williams and a jumper by freshman Ana Anderson to make the score 26-21 Wisconsin with 6:22 remaining in the first half.
The Bears worked hard to cut the lead down to five before Wurtz drilled a deep three-pointer at the buzzer to make the score 39-31 Wisconsin at halftime.
The Badgers continued to use the long ball coming out of the locker room as sophomore Dakota Whyte canned a three-pointer of her own to make the score 44-33 Wisconsin with 18:15 remaining in the second half.
Mercer didn't let the Badgers hot shooting phase them, however, ripping off a 6-0 run capped by a fast break lay-in by Bridges to cut the Wisconsin lead down to five, at 44-39, with 17:06 left in the second stanza.
The Badgers started to take control of the game soon after that though, using a 16-6 run finished off by a pair of crafty low-post moves by junior Michala Johnson to make the score 62-47 Wisconsin with 6:49 to go in the game.
Mercer tried to stay in it, using five-straight points by Bridges to pull within 11 of Wisconsin, 67-56, with 4:20 remaining in the game.
Mercer's late final push wasn't enough in the end, however, as Wisconsin never let its lead dwindle to fewer than five points until the final seconds to secure the win.
Wurtz paced Wisconsin with a double-double consisting of a team-high 24 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
"I thought they just hurt us the most on the glass tonight and it led to too many second-chance shots for them," Gardner said. "I thought that everyone played hard and played well tonight and we had a real chance at the end to win the game. Overall, I was very proud of the effort and just disappointed with the outcome."
Mercer will now take on Elon in the consolation game of the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament on November 30. Game time is scheduled for 5 p.m. in Memorial Gym.