At a new school with a new job, Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey may find comfort seeing a familiar opponent Friday night.
After leaving her assistant coaching position at Stanford to become the head coach at Wisconsin, Kelsey will get a chance to face one of her old conference rivals as the Badgers (1-1) welcome the Washington State Cougars (1-1) to the Kohl Center in a non-conference matchup.
While the Badgers may benefit from their head coach’s knowledge of the Cougars, Kelsey knows Friday’s game will come down to the Badgers executing their game plan.
“Washington State might be running some different stuff,” Kelsey said. “But the player personnel is pretty much the same. They have some of the same players back from my time at Stanford. But we still have to put the ball in the basket. You can know all you want about a team, but if you don’t execute your stuff and you don’t defend on your end and turn it over, you’re going to lose.”
The fastbreak-happy Badgers will face another team that loves to run in the Cougars. While Wisconsin hoists up an average of 56 shots per game, Washington State averages 71. Wisconsin will have to be careful with the ball as well, as Washington State forces an average 25 turnovers a game.
UW has been hard-pressed to keep the ball in their possession on offense. Turnovers have been a thorn in the heel of the Wisconsin offense, as the team averages 22.7 turnovers per game this year. In a loss against Oral Roberts, the Badgers gave the ball away 31 times. In the team’s most recent loss to Marquette, Wisconsin coughed it up 19 times en route to a close 54-52 loss.
Sophomore Morgan Paige emphasized the Badgers’ turnovers come not from their opponent’s defense, but the Badgers own lack of execution.
“We watch tape, and usually our turnovers come when we don’t know what set we’re in,” Paige said. “It all comes down to executing our offense. So if we can start minimizing those instances, we can benefit from those extra opportunities we miss from turnovers. If we can capitalize and execute, the turnovers will go down. We had less last game then we did [against Oral Roberts], but there’s still another step we need to take.”
Kelsey echoed a similar insight, pointing to the Badgers’ impatience in the half court as well.
“I think the last game [against Marquette] showed us we didn’t execute our offense very well,” Kelsey said. “We got lucky on the defensive end with them missing some shots and traveling. They struggled to execute their stuff as well, but in that game’s first half we weren’t running our plays properly. I give [the players] a little bit of freedom to read stuff, but you have to let the play initiate. Then if you see an opening or a crack, you can take it, but right now we’re taking it right away and not letting the play develop.”
Much like the Badgers, the Cougars are a very balanced scoring team across the board. With five players averaging eight points or more per game, Washington State distributes the ball as evenly as Wisconsin, which boasts five players averaging seven points or more.
“They’re really guard-orientated,” forward Ashley Thomas said. “They run a lot of staggered screens for their shooters. We’ve talked about showing on screens and making sure we give that extra time for our defenders to work through those screens.”
For Wisconsin, Friday night will be all about returning to Badger basketball.
“Our main focus is really improving on us,” Thomas said. “Not to take away anything from the other teams we’ve played, but a lot of what we’ve been doing has been on us. No team has taken us out of our gameplan; we just haven’t controlled the ball like we should. When we actually run our offense right, we get good shots. It’s just on us to not get away from what we should do.”