Coming into Sunday’s exhibition game against UW-Oshkosh, much of the buzz surrounding Wisconsin was aimed at head coach Lisa Stone’s new “four-out, one-in” offense. And while the Badgers shot an astonishing 62.5 percent from the field in a 106-39 rout over the Titans, the UW defense was especially stout.
By forcing 32 turnovers — including 22 in the first half — and recording 22 steals, Wisconsin’s defense quickly eased the burden on the offense. Sophomore forward Anya Covington led the Badgers with four steals, while senior guard Rae Lin D’Alie, junior forward Lin Zastrow and freshman Taylor Wurtz each had three apiece. Wisconsin clearly outpaced Oshkosh, winning the battle of fast-break points 26-0, while also overpowering them with size.
“I think it’s our identity of being a defensive team, because if you notice, at the end of the game, we had four guards in there,” Stone said of her team’s balance of size and quickness. “Teah [Gant] and Emily [Neal] both played the power forward for a while, so it’s more about our principles versus our stature.”
Early on, the Badgers began an up-tempo attack, as Gant and junior guard Alyssa Karel pushed the ball up court with regularity. At halftime, Wisconsin had 16 fast-break points and 38 off turnovers. D’Alie also aided in the up-tempo game, finishing with 19 points.
In the front court, the Badgers’ size benefited from the strong defense and quick play of the guards.
Junior forward Tara Steinbauer led the offense with 25 points off a sharp 12-for-13 shooting performance. While Wisconsin’s starting forwards, Steinbauer and Zastrow, are 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-4, respectively, Oshkosh sent out 5-foot-11 forward Shelby Churchill and 5-foot-10 forward Heidi Baerenwald. The Titans were overpowered from the start and failed to score until the 17:30 mark.
While Stone acknowledged her team’s size advantage, she still attributed most of the Badgers’ success to attitude and effort.
“I think it’s about competitive nature, and our players, regardless of who they’re playing — whether its exhibition games or against each other every single day — we maintain the fact that we want to try to outwork people, and it doesn’t matter the size,” Stone said. “We have four post players, and there are some of our guards … who will probably have to play a four position sometime throughout certain games due to certain situations.”
Freshman Wurtz makes an impact
Coming into this season, there was significant attention paid toward the team’s two freshmen additions, guards Catie O’Leary and Taylor Wurtz. While O’Leary was only able to see the floor for six minutes, Wurtz surprised everyone except perhaps Stone with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals in 21 minutes of play.
“Definitely, I had a little bit [of anxiety],” Wurtz said. “But my teammates were great and my coaches were too, so they made it pretty easy for me to come out there and play.”
A two-time All-State player from Brandon, Wis., Wurtz is being counted on to provide a solid guard presence off the bench. In addition, she also boasts good height for a guard at 6-foot, something that Stone believes will pay dividends in the Big Ten.
“Taylor Wurtz is a versatile player [who] can play the one through four positions for us,” Stone said. “She did a nice job, and … looking at the stat sheet, she had zero turnovers, and that’s pretty good for playing half the game. So, a pretty good start for a very exciting freshman.”
For large portions of the second half, in fact, Stone allowed Wurtz to play the point guard position, something that both were happy with.
“Yeah, definitely, I like to handle the ball,” Wurtz said when asked about playing guard.
“Taylor works on her game a lot, daily,” Stone said. “It’s not just her shooting, it’s her ball handling. She’s very strong with the ball, she’s very confident and you’ll see her handle the ball a lot this year. Whether it’s at the point or off guard or even the four position, she’s very confident, and we’re very confident in her with the basketball.”