After dropping two straight, the schedule certainly isn’t lightening up for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team as it travels to State College, Pa., Thursday night to face the No. 18/21 Penn State Nittany Lions.
Monday saw Wisconsin fall to No. 10/11 Ohio State in Columbus, in a game that remained competitive for much of the second half, largely due to the Badgers’ hot shooting from beyond the arc. Although UW emerged with another loss, the performance against one of the conference’s most talented squads left the Badgers with a renewed confidence in their shot.
Despite their impressive shooting – including sinking a school record 12 three-pointers – turnovers mauled any chance at a comeback.
“Our shooting is good; we just have to shore up some other areas – don’t turn the ball over, and understand our defensive assignments,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “That’s what’s hurting us right now, people just not recognizing who’s doing what on who; that takes a lot of concentration.”
Handing the ball over to the Buckeyes 22 times was UW’s highest turnover total since Dec. 23, and players and coaches alike said the turnovers were of a different variety than those that plagued the team earlier this year. At the start of the season, the adjustment to Kelsey’s fast-paced offensive system led to mistakes that offered the opponent extra possessions, but the turnovers at the Value City Arena came as a result of sloppy ball-handling and miscommunication.
When Wisconsin last shared the court with Penn State, the Nittany Lions routed the Badgers by 33 points as they shot better than 52 percent from the field and knocked in 36.4 percent of their shots from three-point land. As UW looks for redemption on the road, it understands victory can’t come without slowing down PSU’s talented backcourt.
“Last time we played them, they really got a lot of whatever they wanted off the dribble and they were able to create shots for each other as a guard group,” sophomore guard Morgan Paige said. “We have improved in the one-on-one containment a little bit, so hopefully that comes through in play.”
A trio of guards power the Nittany Lions’ attack, with young sophomore Maggie Lucas leading the team with 19.6 points per game. A sharpshooter who sinks 45.2 percent of her shots from the floor and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, Lucas is the foundation of Penn State’s dangerous offense.
The Nittany Lions proved in their first game against Wisconsin that if their offense can push the ball down the floor, it can quickly take over the game.
“We got to stop them in transition first of all. They run, they get that ball out quick, and they are gone,” Kelsey said. “If you’re not back and matched up, they’re going to score. The three-point line, they’ll spot up, or they’ll run the post right to the block … so that’s half the battle right there.”
Although PSU’s guards often grab the headlines, the Nittany Lions also boast a serious post presence in junior forward Nikki Greene. Grabbing a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game and also scoring 9.7 points per, Greene poses a serious challenge for a Badger squad that is still without its top post player, Anya Covington.
Covington, who has missed two straight games due to an illness, has put the pressure on fellow forwards Ashley Thomas and Cassie Rochel to prove they can help fill the senior’s strong defensive presence and consistent scoring. In its recent loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin’s shooting kept the Cardinal and White in the game, but an inside-out game will be essential to picking up a victory against the No. 3 squad in the Big Ten.
As the Badgers continue to play through a stretch that includes matchups with three ranked teams in four games, all on the road, players point out the schedule would be even more difficult earlier in the year. While pleased with the progress it has made, Wisconsin understands it needs the ‘W’ to regain momentum.
“I’m glad we face these teams at the end, because I think we’ve come a long way from where we have been in the beginning of the season,” Rochel said. “Anything that we faced in the beginning, I think we’ve really come a long way since then. We’re a different team now and we continue to get better and better.”