After dropping two straight games to Iowa and Michigan, Wisconsin (14-12, 9-5) needs a win against the Hoosiers to stay in contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Dropping a heartbreaking two-point loss to Michigan on Senior Day Saturday, the Badgers will have to recover quickly to pick up a victory over Indiana.
In their first game, Wisconsin had no problem handling the Hoosiers, taking them down in a 75-49 rout in Bloomington. On the heels of that success, UW is sticking to a similar gameplan while recognizing that Indiana will make the necessary changes to challenge the Badgers in the second matchup.
“Obviously they’re going to make some adjustments, so we have to be ready to make some adjustments as well,” senior guard Alyssa Karel said. “And we did play well against them, but we weren’t perfect, so there’s always things to improve on.”
For Karel, along with fellow seniors Lin Zastrow, Tara Steinbauer and Emily Neal, this will be the last game of their careers in front of the Kohl Center crowd. Senior Day may be over, but it will still be an emotional environment Wednesday when they play in the last home game of their college career.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I mean my whole senior season, it’s everything’s going to be done,” Karel said. “But when I kind of thought ‘Oh, this is my last game here,’ it’s weird. It’s been four years of my life, and it’s been a big part of my life. So, it’s bittersweet to be honest.”
One senior will be offering her support from the bench, as the Badgers lost Steinbauer, an emotional leader and UW’s third-leading scorer, to an ACL tear against Iowa.
Wisconsin certainly lost a valuable inside presence with the injury to Steinbauer, but the team understands that it needs to learn to play without the talented forward. Moving on from such a difficult loss isn’t easy, but the Badgers will need to be ready to face an Indiana team that is hungry for a late-season win.
“We’ve got to get back to work and get ready for Indiana and just treat it as one game, because [if we] keep taking care of one game and get a significant win or two in the Big Ten Tournament, things can pan out for us, but we have to focus on Indiana right now,” head coach Lisa Stone said.
Although Indiana sits near the bottom of the Big Ten, the Hoosiers do rank near the top of the conference in one crucial category: steals. Wisconsin has struggled with turnovers at times this season, and Indiana’s 9.7 steals per game could be key to its success.
Led by senior guard Jori Davis, who averages 19.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest and put up 27 points in her last game, Indiana has no shortage of offense. However, if the Badgers keep up the stifling defense that held the Hoosiers to under 50 points in the first contest, UW should be able to pick up the much-needed win.
At this point in the season, Big Ten teams are familiar with one another, meaning the games often turn into tough, physical battles, which is exactly what the Badgers could have in store Wednesday.
“We’re just going to have to play them harder, and it’s going to be a will who wants it more,” junior guard Jade Davis said. “Since we’ve already played each other, we know each other’s gameplan and everything.”
Davis could be the game-changer against the Hoosiers, as she led the team with 14 points against Michigan. The junior guard gained confidence in her shooting against the Wolverines, and Davis’ scoring could help compensate for the loss of Steinbauer’s dominating presence in the paint.
It has been an up and down season for the Badgers, but now more than ever the team needs a win. Currently sitting in third place in the conference, Wisconsin’s hopes of bringing home their first Big Ten title are slim, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of their last two games.
“We’re treating this as a one-game season,” Stone said. “For us right now, it is playoffs. Every game we play right now is a playoff game.”