Despite the preseason hype surrounding the Wisconsin women’s basketball team’s new motion offense, it was clear on Sunday that success for the team still begins on the defensive end of the floor.
The Badgers turned 26 turnovers into 26 points on their way to a 68-43 season-opening victory over visiting North Dakota.
In addition to the multitude of turnovers, Wisconsin stifling “D” held the Sioux to 13-of-49 shooting for the game, a rate of just 26.5 percent.
“When you force a team into 26 turnovers, and you force them to shoot less than 30 percent, and we go plus-six on the glass, we did some very good things,” Badgers coach Lisa Stone said. “That is who we are. And we wanted to establish our identity here today, and I thought we did a very good job of that on the defensive end.”
In fact, the Badgers established their defensive intensity from the opening tip, forcing five Sioux turnovers in the first four minutes and 15 seconds. For the half, Wisconsin induced 16 North Dakota turnovers, which resulted in 13 of the team’s 38 points.
Setting the defensive tone for the squad was senior point guard Rae Lin D’Alie, who finished with a game-high four steals and, along with fellow guards Jade Davis, Emily Neal and Teah Gant, applied suffocating full-court man-to-man defense on North Dakota senior point guard Jossy Bergen.
“I was really impressed with [D'Alie],” North Dakota head coach Gene Roebuck said. “I think she did a real nice job guarding [our point guard]. … When you have a point guard that can put that much pressure on the opposing team’s point guard, it really takes them out of the rhythm of the offense.”
And such disruption was necessary for the Badgers, as they struggled offensively, shooting less than 42 percent for the game and committing 18 turnovers of their own.
However, the Badgers’ defense, which last year yielded just 56.6 points a game (a 10.3 point improvement from 2007-08), remarkably held North Dakota without a field goal for three stretches of at least five minutes — from 13:44 to 4:20 in the first half, from 13:44 to 8:43 in the second and from that field goal at 8:43 until 1:53 remaining in the game.
With 14 total steals and at least three defensive rebounds from six Badgers, it was a complete team effort. In particular, though, Stone highlighted the performance of Davis, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Lone Tree, Colo., who is typically known for her shooting, not defensive exploits.
“I thought in the second half, when we needed some energy, I think Jade provided that for us,” Stone said. “She came in, knocked some loose balls away, got some boards for us. It’s interesting, … she’s known as a shooter, and she’s a very good shooter. … But in today’s game, she was a defensive energizer for us.”
Although Wisconsin’s defensive execution was a positive for the team, Stone said there were plenty of defensive deficiencies that will still need addressing. She cited poor perimeter rebounding and too many hand-check fouls as areas needing improvement.
“Our perimeter rebounding has to be a priority; that we’re not just running under the rim — we need to check out,” Stone said. “Second is looking at our feet, certainly, and keeping our hands off. … We go on the road here right away and then it’s game after game, and we have to make those adjustments.”
As Stone referenced, the team will look to make those changes by Thursday when they hit the road to face in-state rival UW-Milwaukee.