Even though it was only an exhibition game against Division III St. Norbert College, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team played like they had something to prove.
In its first game of the season, the Badgers started strong and never looked back, beating the Green Knights 96-29. Standout freshmen Alyssa Karel and Lin Zastrow led the way for Wisconsin, scoring a combined 26 points on the night and providing a spark for the Badgers’ offense.
Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone was particularly impressed with Karel’s play and took notice of her playmaking abilities.
“The sky is the limit for the kid,” Stone said. “She can shoot the three, get to the basket, she can play defense. She has really good hands, and in the open court she’s awfully fun to watch.”
Zastrow also had an impressive game, scoring 11 points and grabbing 4 rebounds off the bench. Although acknowledging that she played well, Zastrow also found lots of room for improvement as a freshman.
“I think I could always do more, like the coaches and players on the team are always telling me,” Zastrow said. “I’ve got to work on being more aggressive.”
The defense came out especially strong in the first half, allowing 19 points in the first half and forcing 33 Green Knight turnovers. Despite shutting down the St. Norbert offense and building a large lead, the Badgers refused to soften up.
“We had a defensive goal that we brought forth that our kids really bought into during the game,” Stone said. “We’re going to play defense for the entire game.”
In a game with little competition, the Badgers took advantage of a depleted St. Norbert roster that lost two starters and almost half of its scoring average from last season. The Green Knights seemed hopeless offensively, shooting under 17 percent from the field.
“We played our hardest out there,” St. Norbert head coach Connie Tilley said. “It was a great experience for me and my players, but you could really see the difference in playing ability.”
With last year’s conference scoring champion Jolene Anderson matched up against Division III players, St. Norbert seemingly did not have a chance to stop the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. Anderson scored 15 points in only 18 minutes, along with three assists and five rebounds.
Karel talked after the game about finally getting the chance to play with Anderson.
“It’s honestly an honor,” Karel said. “There are times in practice where I just sit on the sidelines and shake my head looking at the amazing things she can do. It’s comforting to know that if stuff is getting crazy I can get the ball to her, and she’ll calm everything down.”
With the score at 50-19 coming out of the half, Stone sent out her starting unit back on to the floor. The defense came out even stronger in the second half, allowing only one field goal after halftime.
“We’re proud of our team,” Stone said. “Defensively we came out with a purpose and passion, and offensively we really demonstrated patience. We took pretty good care of the basketball and got a lot of people involved.”
Offensively, the starters combined for 47 points, and the three freshmen, Tara Steinbauer, Karel and Zastrow combined for 37 points, providing energy and youth when the starters left the floor.
Anderson, who sat for last 10 minutes of the game, only sees improvement from the freshmen after their performances.
“I knew they could play the moment they stepped on the floor,” Anderson said. “Their expectations from me only rise after this game.”
With the momentum on their side for the entire game, the Badgers never came close to giving up the lead. Instead they kept building while trying to get everyone involved in the game.
“We’re really excited about what we saw tonight,” Stone said. “The hardest part about my night was finding minutes for everyone.”
On Sunday the Badgers look to ride their momentum into their second exhibition game against UW-Stout at the Kohl Center. After Friday’s win, Stone and the Badgers are looking toward Sunday’s matchup as an important precursor to the beginning of the season.
“We’re trying to get better every day,” Stone said. “We’re going to see a different look, and we’ll test our defensive transition and see some things that we didn’t see tonight. It helps us prepare for the season.”