After losing consecutive games for only the second time this season, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team will look to end that streak Thursday night against Purdue.
The Badgers are happy to be back at the Kohl Center — where they have lost just twice all season — after struggling on the road in their last two games.
Not only does Wisconsin need a win to end its two-game skid, its home matchup with Purdue comes in the middle of a stretch of four out of five on the road, including the next two games after facing Purdue.
“It’s a big one for us,” junior captain Rae Lin D’Alie said. “It’s home, and we really need to be hungry for a win. Purdue is a great team, so we’ve got to come ready to play defensively, get some things worked out offensively and hopefully we get that ‘W’ because we need one.”
Wisconsin (14-7, 4-6 Big Ten) will face one of the top teams in the conference Thursday in Purdue (13-7, 6-3), a team that was chosen to win the Big Ten in the preseason coaches’ poll and currently is tied with Minnesota for fourth in the conference.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, a 6-foot-2-inch forward, leads the Boilermakers with 13.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. With Purdue’s size advantage inside, Wisconsin may have some lineup changes to deal with matchup problems.
Facing similar size on Sunday against Michigan State, head coach Lisa Stone opted to start freshman guard Jade Davis in place of D’Alie, who had started 86 consecutive games to begin her career.
“We’re going to dictate who plays based on the two practices this week,” Stone said. “It may stay the same, but it might be Rae again; she might come out and just get that fire back that she’s all about.”
Regardless of who is on the court for the Badgers, one of the biggest keys to the game for UW will be taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers.
Wisconsin has struggled in its last two games, turning the ball over more than 20 times against both Penn State and Michigan State. Making the Badgers’ turnover struggles more surprising was the fact that they recently had tied a team-low at home against Illinois with five turnovers, including zero in the second half.
“If we all just kind of slow down and start thinking about our offense and just playing basketball more so than worrying about what defense they’re throwing at us … I think we’ll start taking care of the ball more,” Davis said.
One of the causes of the Badgers’ struggles was the pressure defense they faced against both the Nittany Lions and the Spartans. Stone’s squad expects to see more of the same against Purdue, making ball security a major emphasis in preparation this week.
“We’re going to do some offensive stuff, some sureness drills,” D’Alie said. “We’ll probably have Coach [Oties] Epps on our arms and hacking our arms to make sure we’re being strong with the ball.”
The increase in turnovers recently has led to Wisconsin’s offensive output being down over its last two games, as the Badgers scored just 50 points at Michigan State and 56 in an overtime game at Penn State.
Two players, however, have seen their output go up of late. Mariah Dunham and Alyssa Karel have consistently been the Badgers’ two leading scorers over the last 3 games. The duo combined for 27 points in each of the last two games for UW and 25 in the win over Illinois.
With a pair of scorers leading the way, the Badgers have performed well when they’ve been able to take care of the ball. UW’s third-leading scorer, Lin Zastrow, also has averaged seven points over the last three games for the Badgers.
“We need someone to be stepping up right now and [Dunham] is doing a great job,” D’Alie said. “Alyssa is still doing a great job; she’s still scoring for us which is huge. Hopefully we can get Lin going a little bit more and we should be good.”