After picking up a much-needed win at home against non-conference foe Cleveland State Jan. 20, the Badgers (7-9, 1-5) have had a week off to prepare for their Thursday-night matchup with Ohio State (19-2, 6-1).
Wisconsin will be a heavy underdog against the Buckeyes, who are ranked No. 3 in the latest AP and USA Today polls, but Wisconsin is anything but intimidated.
“It’s a great opportunity for us, there’s no nervousness,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “Our team knows how strong the Big Ten is and we’ve faced ranked teams already.”
The Badgers, who shot 40 percent from the floor and out-rebounded Cleveland State 48-34 in their last outing, will face a daunting challenge as they look to knock off their first ranked opponent since the 2001-02 season.
Wisconsin will have to turn up its pressure defense to generate turnovers against the Buckeyes, who lead the Big Ten in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio, turning the ball over just 13.8 times per game.
Ohio State features the most productive offense in the league, averaging more than 74 points per game. The Buckeyes have also exhibited a stingy scoring defense, allowing their opponents just 50.8 points per game. Wisconsin is dead last in scoring defense, giving up an average of 72.6 points per game.
With Ohio State clicking on all cylinders, Buckeye head coach Jim Foster has his team off to its best start since the 1984-85 season. The No. 3-ranked Buckeyes have claimed the school’s best national ranking since March of 1993.
After opening the Big Ten season with a 69-62 setback at Penn State, the Buckeyes have won eight games in a row, including convincing wins over Purdue, Michigan State and Iowa. Their only other loss came in the preseason WNIT championship game against Notre Dame, 66-62.
Aside from their two losses, the Buckeyes have cruised through the first half of the season, blowing out their counterparts by an average of 23.8 points per game.
“They’re coming here to the Kohl Center where we’re more confident,” junior forward Jordan Wilson said. “If we can execute and play hard for 40 minutes I think we can give them a pretty good run.”
Ohio State will keep the Badger defense on its toes all game as Foster is known for cycling through every player on his roster. The Badgers will need to know where Ohio State’s shooters are on the floor at all times, especially sophomore sniper Brandie Hoskins, who hits 59.2 percent of her shots, good for third in the conference. At shooting guard, she puts up 12.6 points per game while dishing out nearly 3.4 assists per game. Hoskins has scored in double digits in 15 of 19 games this season, including the last 12 of 14.
Senior guard Caity Matter adds to the Buckeye scoring punch with 13.8 points per game. She also shoots more than 50 percent from the field (52.7 percent), including an impressive 45.8 percent from behind the arc.
Perhaps the bigger story will be the undersized Badgers searching for a way to contain 6-foot-5 center Jessica Davenport. With no starter on the Badger roster taller than 6-foot-1, freshman Danielle Ward, the tallest player on the squad at 6-foot-4, may draw the assignment of Davenport.
“It’s going to be a team defensive stop every time down the court, but it’s going to be a big task come Thursday,” junior forward Annie Nelson said.
Davenport, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media, has continued to improve on what has already been a breakout season. Davenport has been named Big Ten Player of the Week twice this season. She has recorded five double-doubles already this season en route to leading the team in scoring with 17.2 points per game and averaging eight rebounds per game.
The sophomore currently leads the conference in blocked shots with more than 2.8 swipes per game. She was also selected as one of the Top 20 midseason candidates for the 2004-05 Wooden Player of the Year Award and was named to the All-America Team.
Ohio State’s scoring does drop off dramatically from there, but they also have six players that average between 5.5 and 3.0 points per game, making anyone a threat at any given time.
“They’re solid; they have a great bench, they play hard and they’re very explosive, yet I’m a big believer in that every single team has an opportunity every time they play,” Stone said. “We’re going to scramble and get after it and hopefully play our best game of the year.”