If basketball is a game of peaks and valleys, then there is no better group to exemplify it than the Wisconsin women’s basketball team.
In a season marked by streaks in both the win and loss columns, the Badgers (8-16, 4-8 Big Ten) are currently in the midst of three straight defeats, two of those coming to top 25 teams. While the Badgers are no strangers to rough stretches – having endured two streaks of four or more losses earlier this season – they are looking to stamp out any inconsistencies en route to playing their last four remaining games of the regular season.
The largest inconsistency that currently plagues Wisconsin is its offense. While the Badgers averaged 47 percent from the floor during the three-game win streak that preceded their past three games, the team is shooting an average of 39 percent from the floor in their recent three game slide. Although shooting nearly 40 percent from the floor is still a positive for the Badgers, the team is struggling to match the point production that has led them to victories all season.
Currently, the Badgers are averaging 59.7 points per game, with only 56 points in their last two contests. Although the offense has recently hiccupped, Wisconsin is fully capable of outshooting opponents. In games where the Badgers score more than 60 points, the team is 7-4, and the team is also 4-1 in games when they score 70 or more – point totals that are extremely necessary for a team that gives up on average 43 percent from the field to their opponents.
Although the team is reluctant to admit it, the Badgers’ offensive chemistry may have been affected by the two-game absence of senior forward Anya Covington to illness. In the team’s two games without Covington – both resulting in losses – Badger post players only managed to score a combined sixteen points while the team was outrebounded in both games.
Covington’s presence is something that Wisconsin sophomore guard Morgan Paige believed could have helped the Badgers’ seal up a win against No.9/10 Ohio State last week. In a game where the Badgers made a school record 12 three-pointers, the team was severely lacking from within the arc, going a measly 11-of-34 from anywhere inside the three point line.
“It hurt against Ohio State to not have Anya in the paint even though we had one of our better shooting nights there,” Paige said. “I wouldn’t say the three pointers we took at Penn State were bad shots, we just couldn’t buy a basket. I feel like in our next few games, having Anya back, our consistency should come back, but it’s just one of those things where you never expect to come out and shoot as poorly as we did against Penn State.”
Shooting poorly might be an understatement. Although the Badgers boast the fourth highest team three-point percentage in the Big Ten, that stat was all for naught against the No. 12/17 Nittany Lions last Thursday. Penn State held Wisconsin to 1-for-12 shooting from three, a season low for the Badgers, wasting a 20 point performance from the returning Covington.
For Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey, chemistry has no role in the team’s recent struggles.
“I mean you obviously miss [Covington's] scoring but other people have to step up,” Kelsey said. “Chemistry had nothing to do with our offense struggling. When people are missing other players have to step up. Some of the silly plays, not matching up, giving people straight line drives to the basket – you can’t win doing that. Even though we haven’t been playing our best we’re still in these games; we just have to close these games out.”
When it comes to closing out games, Kelsey’s words echo the exact truth. The Badgers have held leads in several of the games they’ve dropped this season, including a 10-point lead in a recent overtime loss at home against Iowa. Turnovers have also killed the Badgers, as mistakes in key moments of recent games have cost the Badgers wins.
In the overtime loss against Iowa, the Badgers had an opportunity for a final shot to win the game in the waning seconds of regulation. But Wisconsin could not hold onto the rock, turning the ball over and allowing the Hawkeyes the two final shots of the second half, as both attempts luckily did not find their target. On the road against Ohio State the team brought the game within six points in the second half but unraveled with a string of turnovers and missed box-outs, as the Buckeyes capitalized on second chance points.
In the last three games, the Badgers have 61 combined turnovers, for an average of 20 a game. Those 20 turnovers equate directly to offense, as the Badgers have on average lost 20 chances from the floor during their recent three game skid.
For Kelsey, fixing the team’s inconsistencies of late are a matter of finding the players that step up in big moments.
“Our players need to have a closer mentality,” Kelsey said. “Some of our players want me to give it to them, but I’m like, you’re sadly mistaken. I can only bring out what you already have; I can calm you down a little bit but you need to have that attitude when you play. I mean, we have some passive players; you just need to have confidence in yourself. A coach can’t give you that.”