It’s been a rough stretch of games for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team.
Losers of five straight and struggling with consistency, the Badgers (8-18, 4-10) will find themselves paired with another struggling team Thursday night as they take on the Indiana Hoosiers (5-22, 0-14) in Bloomington, Ind.
Despite their winless conference record and current 14-game losing streak, the Hoosiers have battled opponents like Illinois, Michigan and Northwestern down to the wire.
While the Hoosiers look like the doormat of the conference record wise, the team has a surprising amount of competitiveness. Indiana is currently the Big Ten’s third best rebounding team, averaging 42 rebounds a game despite losing their best rebounder, senior double-double threat Georgie Jones, to a season-ending ACL tear.
This could pose a danger to Wisconsin, a team that has struggled to contain and box out opponents on the boards throughout the season.
“If I’m [Indiana] and I’m looking at tape and seeing that in certain games we’ve given up 21 and 23 offensive rebounds, I’d say ‘Hey, last game at home, everybody rebounds,’” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “I’d be saying they aren’t going to box you out because we haven’t proven we can. Until you prove it, why would they not attack us”?
Besides being outrebounded in every game during their five-game losing streak, the Badgers have given up a combined 69 offensive rebounds in that span, good for an average of almost 14 a game.
It’s no mystery that the Badgers fate against the Hoosiers will be tied to the battle of the boards.
“They’re a good rebounding team, they don’t have just a good rebounder, they have a good rebounding team,” senior forward Anya Covington said. “So we all have to box out, and we’ve been lacking in that area. It all comes down to discipline, but I know we can do that and box out.”
The Badgers will also need consistent offensive production from their guards. While junior guard Taylor Wurtz’s offensive dominance has been well documented, the rest of the conference has caught on. Opponents’ best defenders have flustered Wurtz or double-teamed the star guard in the second half of the conference season, leading to Wisconsin’s struggles in maintaining a consistent scoring output.
If the Badgers want to play the spoilers on the Hoosiers’ Senior Night at Assembly Hall, guards like Morgan Paige will have to step up like she did Sunday against Nebraska. Leading the team with 15 points in a losing effort, Paige showed her ability to do it all for Wisconsin, scoring on jump shots as well as on the drive.
“My percentage is really high, and the scouting report for other teams probably says contest hard and make her put the ball on the ground,” Paige said. “I think as soon as I hit an outside shot, they came out harder on me. My favorite thing is to put the ball on the ground. I love to use pump-fakes, so when I get to go straight line to the basket for wide-open layups it’s always a great opportunity for us.”
The Badgers will need everything Paige can muster Thursday night, as the matchup against the Hoosiers will feature the two worst scoring offenses in the Big Ten. While the Badgers have shown glimpses of offensive greatness against the conference – highlighted by a 79 point outburst against Iowa on Feb. 2 – the Badgers have only mustered on average 59.2 points per game this season.
For Kelsey, the Badgers just need someone to step up during crunch time to help give the team some consistency on the offensive end.
“This is not a group that’s used to having close games,” Kelsey said. “None of them have had to do that in their careers here. They’ve never been put in those situations where someone has to be the closer.
“I mean, who is that? We have a hard time sometimes, identifying one. Taylor can close, but when she gets double-teamed who else? … It’s hard to not have that veteran experience of someone that’s been in that situation before.”