Nobody said it would ever be easy.
A period of transition between two coaches and two different styles of the game is difficult. Seasoned upperclassmen are reduced to freshman, as the learning curve is sometimes higher for the members of the team who are more used to the old way than the new faces. For the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, this early part of the season has been one of growing pains under the new approach taken by head coach Bobbie Kelsey.
No longer do the Badgers run the motion offense — a staple under former coach Lisa Stone — but play a more up-tempo brand of offense brought by Kelsey from her time at Stanford. One of the largest problems thus far for the Badgers’ offense has been limiting their turnovers. Averaging 18.1 turnovers a game, the Badgers’ offense has struggled to find its groove.
However, the Badgers have shown improvement as the season has progressed, as the team committed a season-low 12 turnovers against Saint Louis Monday.
“We’re starting to feel a lot more comfortable in the offense,” sophomore guard Morgan Paige said. “At the beginning you could tell people really didn’t fully understand where they were supposed to be going or where the ball was supposed to be at, at a particular moment.
“In the beginning the turnovers were happening because we were new to the sets we were running. Now I’d say it’s getting to the time where we can’t make that excuse anymore, we’re starting to learn the offense and get it down. Now the turnovers are more because of pressure than not knowing the sets.”
Kelsey, like Paige, believes that the offense will be a work in progress as the players continue to adapt to the new style and discover specific strengths and options each individual brings to the team’s new approach.
“We’ve cut down on a lot of unnecessary dribbling,” Kelsey said. “The more the ball moves out of your hand, the greater the possibility of it getting stolen. The more they run things and play together, the more they figure out who can do what and give them the ball where they can get the open shot.
“That’s the key to any offense, getting open looks and knocking down the open looks. They just need to keep getting into the offense faster, move the ball and cut down on the dribbling. It helps your offense to flow better.”
With the large turnover statistic, most of the opponents the Badgers have faced have brought the pressure. Until the Badgers bring down the turnover numbers or have a game where they effectively dominate defensive pressure, the offense will not only struggle, but also entice opposing teams to bring pressure throughout the game.
“We’ve seen pressure from pretty much every team we’ve played because we had so many turnovers in the first games of the year,” junior guard Taylor Wurtz said. “People think Wisconsin can’t handle it but we’re getting better as the season goes on. We value the ball and every possession in practice and eventually that will transfer over into the games consistently.”
Another thorn in the Badgers’ side has been their defense. Wisconsin is currently allowing their opponents to shoot 41.8 percent from the field, one of the highest percentages in the country.
However, there is reason to believe the Badgers will continually improve in this area. The Badgers held Saint Louis to 28 percent from the field earlier this week in one of the Wisconsin defense’s best performances of the year. Most of the looks the team has given up to opponents are very close to the basket, resulting from offensive rebounds and fast break points off of steals and turnovers.
The correlation between high turnovers and the high opponent shooting percentages is evident. The two games where the Badgers have committed their highest turnover mark of the season have also been two of the games where the Badgers have given up the highest shooting percentage to their opponent.
“A lot of the easy points our opponents have scored comes from second chance points and points off turnovers,” Paige said. “In our losses the percentages are high because the other team is getting a lot of short shots and layups. I feel like that percentage will go down when our mistakes will go down.”
“It’s a matter of putting it all together,” Kelsey said. “We haven’t played our best game yet. We’ve seen flashes of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.”