INDIANAPOLIS — No. 10 Ohio State finally started guarding Alyssa Karel, and it was enough for the Buckeyes to reach the Big Ten championship game.
The Buckeyes withstood a career-high 31 points from Karel and beat the Badgers 82-73 in a Big Ten tournament semifinal Saturday.
Karel made all five of her 3-pointers for Wisconsin, but she was held without a field goal for the final 6:47.
“We started trapping the screen and roll pretty hard and rotating defensively pretty hard,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “In the first half, they were beating us off the dribble. And we just — I think it became more personal.”
While Wisconsin got an exceptional effort from its junior guard, Ohio State’s one-two punch of 6-foot-4 center Jantel Lavender and 5-7 point guard Samantha Prahalis performed as usual. Prahalis scored 29 points and Lavender added 27. The Buckeyes (29-4) will defend their tournament championship Sunday against Iowa (19-12), which beat Michigan State 59-54 in the early game.
Prahalis and Lavender combined to make 24 of 27 free throws while Wisconsin’s team made 14 of 19. Foster said his team has had similar advantages in free throw attempts for most of the season because his team has been aggressive.
“It just makes us a hard team to guard,” Foster said. “We really get to the foul line. We’ve made a huge number more foul shots than our opponents have attempted. It’s a significant number and it’s always something we strive for.”
The Buckeyes trailed by seven points in the second half before rallying.
“It just shows the greatness that our team has and the potential we have to be an extremely great team,” Lavender said. “The fact that we dug deep as a team just shows our poise and how tough our team is.”
Prahalis made four 3-pointers in the game and all 11 of her free throws in the second half.
Lavender, the Big Ten player of the year, also had nine rebounds and three blocks. She struggled early, but went 5 for 9 from the field and 9 for 10 from the free throw line for 19 points in the second half.
Tayler Hill added 14 points and six rebounds for Ohio State, which won all three games against Wisconsin this season.
Lin Zastrow scored 14 points and Teah Gant added 12 for the Badgers (21-8).
Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said her team gained confidence, despite the loss.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my basketball team,” she said. “They left it on the court, they played their hearts out. This game was an Elite Eight game. It was two very, very good teams going back and forth. Ohio State is a very, very good team, but our basketball team should be in that same conversation.”
The Badgers shot 46 percent a day after shooting 51 percent in a 73-51 win over Purdue.
“They played great on offense, they drove us, they were hitting shots,” Prahalis said. “Wisconsin played really good, so we just needed to grind it out.”
Wisconsin made five of its first seven shots to take an early 13-9 lead.
Lavender picked up her second foul with 7:15 left in the first half and Wisconsin leading 28-24. The Buckeyes hung tough without her, but Wisconsin shot 55 percent in the first half to lead 41-37 at the break.
It was a well-played first half, with six ties and just seven turnovers between the teams. Karel scored 14 points for the Badgers, while Prahalis scored 11 for the Buckeyes.
A 3-pointer by Karel rattled in and gave Wisconsin a 46-39 lead early in the second half.
Ohio State responded with a 7-0 run, including a 3-point play by Lavender, that tied the score at 46.
The Buckeyes took the lead when Prahalis made a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Ohio State a 62-60 lead with just over nine minutes to play.
The lead seesawed until the final minutes, but Ohio State began to pull away after Prahalis converted a 3-point play to give the Buckeyes a 78-72 lead with 1:42 left. Wisconsin shot over 50 percent for most of the game, but didn’t make a field goal for the final 4:17.
“We just needed to get stops,” Prahalis said. “Every time we met in the huddle, it was, ‘We got to get stops, we got to get stops.’ It must have been said a thousand times.”
Foster said those stops must come earlier against Iowa.
“We won’t play zone,” Foster said. “They move it and shoot it too well. We got to make them earn their points, and we can’t wait until halftime tomorrow.”