As the Wisconsin women’s basketball team opened its Big Ten season Monday, it had a similar result to its actual season opener at South Dakota State: a loss.
Despite rallying back from a 20-point deficit, the Badgers could never get closer than within nine points in the second half as Iowa defeated Wisconsin 73-63 at the Kohl Center.
Monday’s loss was the Badgers’ first at home and their first since losing at SDSU, snapping their 10-game winning streak.
“This is one game, and it’s one game that we’ll learn from,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “We made a valiant effort late, it’s just that we started playing good basketball too late [and] we dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
The game was back-and-forth early, with the Badgers trailing 9-7 at the first media timeout. They would never get closer, however, as the Hawkeyes used a 9-0 run from that point to take control of the game.
After Wisconsin cut the lead to 18-13, Iowa went on another run, a 7-0 run, giving them a 25-13 lead with 6:48 remaining in the half. The teams would go back and forth the rest of the period, with Iowa taking a 12-point lead to the locker room at 35-23.
The difference in the first half came down to shooting percentage. The Badgers hit just 10-of-33 (30.3%) from the field in the period compared to 13-of-23 (56.5%) for the Hawkeyes. Iowa also held a 6-1 advantage from the free throw line, hitting on all six of their foul shots.
“I thought we executed pretty well and got some good looks early on,” Stone said. “We may have rushed some…but as [Wendy] Ausdemore catches it and it’s going off her hands before she catches it and down it goes, you want to go back and get it back in a hurry.”
Ausdemore, a senior forward and Iowa’s third leading scorer, led all scorers in Monday’s game with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The Hawkeyes had four other players reach double figures Monday. Center Megan Skouby added 14 points, guard Kristi Smith had 13 and forward JoAnn Hamlin added 10 points.
In the second half, Wisconsin came out strong, with the hopes of cutting the lead in half before the first media timeout. The Badgers were only able, however, to cut the lead to 11 points as the Hawkeyes continued to shoot well.
Over the first nine minutes of the second half, Iowa outscored Wisconsin 21-13 to extend its lead to 20 points, its largest of the night at 56-36. Following the second media timeout of the period, the Badgers finally found their defense, taking control of the game on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 58-47.
Following that run, the Hawkeyes reeled off six in a row to push the lead back to 17 points with just under 4 1/2 minutes remaining. The Badgers picked it up again, going on an 8-0 to cut the lead to just nine points with two minutes remaining.
However, a Skouby jumper on the next Iowa possession killed the momentum for UW, allowing the Hawkeyes to come away with the 10-point victory.
“We kind of felt like our momentum was finally going to switch our way,” UW guard Alyssa Karel said. “Whenever a player hits a big shot like that, it always gets you down a little bit and wee couldn’t turn it around again.”
“The game is a game of momentum and we wanted to keep the momentum going our way more than their way and tonight we just couldn’t get it done.”
Karel was one of three Wisconsin players to reach double figures Monday, contributing 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 1-for-4 from three-point range.
Forward Lin Zastrow led the Badgers with 18 points, hitting 6-of-11 from the field and a pair of threes; forward Mariah Dunham added 14 points for UW on 4-of-11 shooting and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc.
As a team known for its defensive ability, to give up 73 points in a game is never desirable. Following a week off for finals, the Badgers were unable to stop the Hawkeyes, who won Saturday at Drake, from hitting their shots.
Similarly to the SDSU loss, Wisconsin will go back after a few days off for Christmas and work on a reemphasis on its defense as it gets ready for Minnesota on December 29.
“It felt very similar [to South Dakota State],” junior guard Rae Lin D’Alie said. “[We need to] come back and just reemphasize our defense and just regroup and let each other know that our defense, that’s our identity.”
“Plain and simple, if we’re going to win some games, our defense has got to show up.”
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With ten consecutive victories on its resume, the Wisconsin women’s basketball is starting to get noticed. While some of the credit for Saturday’s season-high attendance total must go to in-state rival Marquette, there’s a buzz slowly building around this Badgers squad.
“I think the buzz is that this young team is doing what nobody thought they could do,” UW coach Lisa Stone said. “”We just want to keep getting better and keep on growing.”
Those Wisconsin fans that showed up Saturday were rewarded with one of the Badgers’ best all-around performances of the season as they defeated the Golden Eagles 67-48 in the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin (10-1) once again was led offensively by sophomore guard Alyssa Karel with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 2-for-6 from 3-point range. The Badgers’ other starting guards also reached double digits as Rae Lin D’Alie added 14 points and Teah Gant finished with 10 points and a career-high 8 rebounds.
The Badgers once again were fueled by a hot start offensively by Karel, jumping out to a 16-3 lead and forcing a Golden Eagle timeout at the 14:28 mark.
Marquette (7-3), on the other hand, struggled mightily against the UW defense, shooting just 23.2 percent from the field and 19 percent from beyond the arc. The lone bright spot offensively for the Golden Eagles was an 18-for-21 clip from the line.
The Golden Eagles’ shooting percentage was a season low for Marquette and a season low for a Wisconsin opponent. Marquette’s 48 points was seven fewer than its previous season low – 55 points against Northwestern – and 27 points below its season average of 75.7 points per game.
“We played terrible,” Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said. “We looked like our feet were in the mud. Wisconsin took advantage of it, and they are so unselfish and they’re playing well and they have a lot of confidence.”
Krystal Ellis, an all-America candidate and preseason all-Big East selection, was never able to find a rhythm on the offensive end, shooting just 3-for-12 from the field and 1-for-4 from beyond the arc. Ellis finished with a season-low seven points before fouling out – for the first time this season – in the second half.
Gant, the primary defender on the senior guard, frustrated Ellis throughout the game by guarding her close and keeping her from finding an open look.
“Every game we’re growing defensively,” said Gant. “We’ve proved that defense is what wins.”
Wisconsin took care of the ball better than Marquette with 13 assists to 12 turnovers compared to just five assists and 13 turnovers. The Badgers also outrebounded the Golden Eagles 45-36, and held a 14-3 edge on second-chance points.
The Badgers also managed to avoid something that has plagued them throughout the season – letting large leads slip and letting their opponents back in the game. UW had its largest lead of 21 points in the second half with 11:11 remaining to play. Over the final 11 minutes, MU managed to cut the lead by just two points in the end.
As defense has been the trademark of this Badgers’ squad, it’s worth noting that many offensive-minded players – such as junior Mariah Dunham – have bought into the “pack” defense mentality and stepped up their play on the defensive end.
“Being an offensive-minded person, this defense has opened my eyes to a whole different side of our performance, my performance, everyone’s performance.” Dunham said, “I never really concentrated on it [before], but you have to concentrate on it if you want to be on this team and play.”
In addition to realizing the importance of the Badgers’ defense, Dunham has begun to enjoy playing on the defensive end more as her team has had increased success defensively.
“I guess I’m trying to step up my level on defense, and yes, I think it’s fun,” Dunham said.
With the victory over its in-state rival, Wisconsin completed the sweep of all three intrastate games for the first time in more than 30 years. The Badgers’ 10-game winning streak ties for the second longest in school history and their 10-1 record ties for the third best start in school history.
“I’m very proud of our basketball team for the way we’ve started the season,” said UW coach Lisa Stone, whose team won for the 10th time in a row since losing its opener. “We’ve had continued growth and development and buying into what we’re trying to get done offensively and defensively.”
They have eight wins in a row and an upset over then-No. 6 Baylor. They won the 2008 Paradise Jam Tournament. They own the second-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten and the third-best turnover margin in the conference.
They are, of course, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. After losing their opener on the road at South Dakota State, the Badgers have surprised everyone – perhaps even themselves – by rattling off eight straight wins en route to an 8-1 record.
Their wins, however, haven’t always been pretty, and they certainly haven’t been easy. The Badgers eight wins this season have come by a combined 55 points, or an average of 6.8 points. In their last four wins, the cardinal and white have survived three chances for Baylor to tie or win the game and two overtimes against UW-Milwaukee.
With all their wins being so close, it seems fair to ask, are these Badgers as good as their record would indicate?
Let’s start with the case for yes.
First and foremost, Wisconsin has won eight straight.
Eight wins in a row is the most for UW since the 2001-02 season. That means despite reaching the postseason in each of the last two seasons and reaching the WNIT championship in 2007, the Badgers did not win eight straight in either of those seasons.
Secondly, Wisconsin upset the sixth-ranked team in the nation.
When it comes to postseason tournament eligibility, one cannot say enough about big wins in the nonconference season. With a win over a team like Baylor, a borderline Wisconsin team could punch their ticket to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT.
Moreover, the win was the first for the Badgers over a top-10 opponent since beating Purdue in that same stretch in 2001. It also was the first UW win over a ranked opponent since 2006. Once again, even the two most successful Wisconsin teams under Lisa Stone – the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Badgers – did not manage a victory over either a top-10 opponent or a ranked opponent.
Finally, the last reason for yes: they won the 2008 Paradise Jam Tournament.
Say what you will about tournaments in November, but the fact is, the Badgers won their first tournament since 2006. In doing so, they defeated a Villanova team that knocked them out of the WNIT a year ago and they earned the aforementioned upset over Baylor.
While in the Virgin Islands – aside from enjoying the sunny weather – the Badgers won three games in three days, something that will prove valuable in the Big Ten tournament and any potential postseason tournament.
In fact, it may already have proved valuable over the last week when the Badgers played three games in three days.
Wisconsin appeared a bit sluggish late against UW-Milwaukee after returning to Madison, but the Badgers persevered and came away with a win. Just two days later, Wisconsin came out firing against Virginia Tech, getting out to an 18-point lead in the first half that it would never relinquish. Finally, the Badgers were able to hold off a surging Northern Illinois team Sunday to earn a 70-64 victory.
Now, let’s look at why the Badgers may not be as good as their record would indicate.
First, they can’t hold on to a big lead.
In each of their three games this week, the Badgers have led by more than 15 points at some point. Against UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin led by as many as 16 points, only to let UW-M tie the game and force a pair of overtimes. The result: a two-point victory.
In Thursday’s matchup with Virginia Tech, the cardinal and white led by as many as 17 points in the second half. The end result: a nine-point victory.
Against Northern Illinois in a Sunday matinee, UW led by 20 points before letting NIU cut the lead significantly. The final: a six-point victory.
Among the three games, the Badgers led by a total of 53 points before letting the lead slip and winning by just 17 points. If Wisconsin expects to contend in the Big Ten, it will need to work on maintaining its leads for a full 40 minutes.
Secondly, Wisconsin has trouble taking care of the ball.
Although the Badgers may turn the ball over significantly less than their opponents, they have the 10th-ranked assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten.
If it weren’t for an impressive 74 percent shooting display from the field in the first half Sunday, Wisconsin may have been hurt by turning the ball over 10 times against just five assists. The Badgers finished the game with 18 turnovers and 11 assists, a 0.61 ratio, below their already unimpressive season mark of 0.7 per game.
Finally, the last reason: they struggle on the boards.
Wisconsin averages 32.4 rebounds per game – 2.3 fewer than its opponents. On both the offensive and defensive glass, the Badgers rank 10th in the conference in rebounding. With the Big Ten being known for its tough, physical play, UW will need to improve its inside presence to have success.
In the end, Wisconsin (8-1) may not be as good as they appear based on their record or eight-game winning streak, but they certainly are better than anyone could have expected. With guards Alyssa Karel and Rae Lin D’Alie running things, anything could happen for the cardinal and white. Next up for Wisconsin is a pair of in-state rivalry games that could go a long way in showing how good it truly is. If UW can beat UW-Green Bay on the road and Marquette at the Kohl Center, they will prove their worth.