Once again, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (11-9, 6-2) was led by its two major inside threats in senior forwards Lin Zastrow and Tara Steinbauer.
It may seem like a common theme, but with star senior guard Alyssa Karel struggling with her shooting and scoring just nine points, Zastrow and Steinbauer were needed more than ever Sunday against Illinois. Scoring 28 points in the paint, inside play was a key to the Badgers’ 60-47 win over the Fighting Illini as UW proved that it truly is an inside-out team.
“Offensively…we attacked inside early, Tara had a great, strong start,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “We really keyed in on Lin a lot, then we hit a couple threes and we stopped going inside for a while.”
It comes as no surprise that, when the Badgers started relying on their outside game, they quickly fell behind to Illinois. Still leading with just over five minutes left in the first half, Wisconsin had to come back to make it a one-point Illinois lead at halftime.
The most telling part of that stretch was that the Badgers lost an edge when they stopped making an effort to consistently get the ball to the post players. Although Steinbauer had 10 quick points early on, the Illini clearly had an easier time defending Wisconsin when the Badgers fired shots from outside.
“We’ve been able to find success [inside]; our guards have been doing a great job,” Steinbauer said. “We’ve emphasized bounce-passing into the post, which has not only gotten us more post touches, but limited our turnovers. So, [it's] definitely something we’re working to improve every day.”
Even though she may give much of the credit to the guards, Steinbauer finished with 19 points, and her success inside the paint was crucial to the team’s rebounding in the second half.
Passing was also a key to the post game against Illinois, as the Badgers tallied 14 assists to the Illini’s eight and relied on great passes to open up good looks inside. As players struggled to find a true rhythm from outside, the emphasis on looking for the best option gave Wisconsin plenty of high-percentage shots. Zastrow had four assists herself, a sign that even the post players were trying to spread the scoring.
“I’ve gotten yelled at quite a few times in my career for too much passing, but I guess I always want to look to pass first,” Zastrow said. “I love getting my teammates involved, helping my teammates out. So I just work on that all the time.”
After shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from beyond the arc in the game, getting points in the paint was clearly the best strategy for mounting a comeback. Zastrow and Steinbauer also got some help from junior forward Anya Covington, who finished with four points and missed just one shot from the field.
Another effect of the Badgers’ impressive performance inside was that it created plenty of opportunities at the free throw line. Making 16 of its 17 shots from the charity stripe, UW made up for much of its poor shooting by fully taking advantage of free baskets.
The Badgers’ inside players were also able to slow down Illinois by getting their players, particularly their star sophomore forward Karisma Penn, into foul trouble.
Despite the fact that Penn finished the game with 18 points, her four personal fouls limited her playing time in the second half. Penn’s foul trouble was a direct result of the aggressive play inside by Zastrow and Steinbauer.
“Our bread and butter is our inside game, and I think getting Karisma Penn into foul trouble, especially early on in that second half, was huge for us,” Steinbauer said. “We had a definite size advantage down low.”
Perhaps the importance of the inside play was best displayed by the way it frustrated the Badgers’ opponent. By taking out the Illini’s best player and leading Wisconsin’s offense, Zastrow and Steinbauer clearly had a major impact on the game.
“They [have] experienced posts, two seniors that have been here,” Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. “Sometimes I look, and it’s like wow, Zastrow is still here”?