While the Wisconsin men’s basketball squad will be facing off with North Carolina in a highly anticipated matchup, the women’s basketball team will be doing its part in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as they face off with the Boston College Eagles.
After dropping two games to Brigham Young and Colorado and picking up a victory over Montana State over the Thanksgiving break, the Badgers (2-5) are hoping to regain some momentum with a victory over a talented Boston College (2-2) team.
Taking on the Eagles as part of a multiple-game challenge between the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten, the Badgers say they feel they can carry their conference’s reputation into the game.
“It’s always fun in a stage like this where you get to actually play a big, large conference and get that showdown and know that every team in the Big Ten gets to do the same thing,” sophomore guard Morgan Paige said. “You kind of want to pull your weight in a sense, so I think it’s really exciting.”
Along with the opportunity to help the conference keep its foothold as one of the best in the nation, Wisconsin players and coaches feel that facing off with Boston College can prepare them for Big Ten play. Although the uniforms may not be identical, the Badgers see many similarities between the Big Ten squads they will face later this year and the top-flight squads they are playing now.
Despite losing to Colorado 58-48 Saturday, UW emerged from the game with a season-low 13 turnovers, a major step forward as they prepare for the Eagles. Struggling with turnovers all year – including a Kohl Center record 31 against Oral Roberts earlier this season – the Badgers believe their focus on turnovers in practice is finally paying off.
After handling the Buffaloes’ tough press defense, Wisconsin is confident it can continue the low-turnover trend against the Boston College defense.
“I really think that we were patient, we really focused on taking care of the basketball. … They don’t pressure as hard as Colorado did, so hopefully we can carry it on,” assistant coach Stacy Cantley said.
Although turnovers earlier in the season were often credited to the transition to first-year head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s new triangle offense, the Badgers seem to be gaining more confidence controlling the ball.
According to Paige, the Badgers have focused on limiting turnovers in practice and are working on techniques to limit handing over the ball to the opposing squad.
“We really put an emphasis on using ball fakes before you pass and commanding your space and taking a minute to look at your options before you actually decide to do something,” Paige said. “Coach really likes to limit dribbles, because when you’re dribbling, and you don’t have a plan, then you’re more prone to a turnover.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Boston College is led by 6-foot-3 sophomore center Katie Zenevitch, who leads the team with 11 points and 5.8 boards per game. Coaches plan to try double-teaming the Eagles’ top inside threat and will rely on their taller forwards in Anya Covington, Ashley Thomas and Cassie Rochel to thwart Zenevitch’s inside attack.
“The biggest thing with her is we have to take away [Zenevitch's] favorite move,” Cantley said. “Our post players can’t get stuck playing behind. Once she gets the ball in deep, it’s easy for her to score. So they really have to do their job … and keep her from getting the ball.”
Rounding out Boston College’s inside-out game in the backcourt are guards Kerri Shields and Tessah Holt, both averaging more than six points per game. Although the Badgers plan to try putting two defenders on Zenevitch, they will have to be careful not to let the sharp-shooting Shields toss up three-pointers from the wing. With a team-high 26 attempts from beyond the three-point arc on the season, the junior could bury the Badgers in a big lead if she finds her rhythm from outside.
Through their first seven games, Wisconsin is shooting just 38.1 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point land, numbers they will be looking to improve on in their matchup with the Eagles.
Averaging 58.9 points per game thus far, players and coaches believe the shots will start to fall as Wisconsin gains confidence in Kelsey’s more trigger-happy system.
“A lot of us have been putting in the extra work in the gym, whether we’re coming in with coaches or working together, just shooting,” forward Cassie Rochel said. “But we’re trying to put up more shots, and coach is really emphasizing ‘If you’re open, take a shot.’ As far as the shots not going in, that’s something we just have to work on outside of games.”