The Wisconsin women’s basketball team began its season last week with two exhibition wins over UW-La Crosse and Concordia-St. Paul.
Head coach Bobbie Kelsey addressed the pair of solid exhibition performances in her weekly press conference Monday.
With the preseason schedule finished, attention has now turned to the regular season, where the Badgers will have one of the youngest teams in the nation. UW ranks 20th nationally in terms of least amount of experience.
“We’re going to have to play some young ones this year,” Kelsey said. “But that’s how you learn, we’re going to have to roll with it.”
Wisconsin did a nice job rolling with it last week, as all five freshmen played in each game.
“I was pleased with some of our freshman that really came out and played really well,” Kelsey said. “Especially Nicole Bauman, she did a really nice job for us, and Dakota Whyte as well. Shannon Malone played a lot of minutes.”
The Badgers’ first game came against La Crosse Thursday, dispatching the Eagles 90-39 and holding them to just 15 points in the first half. UW’s second opponent, Concordia St. Paul, offered more of a challenge, grabbing 42 rebounds and only trailing by six points going into halftime. However, Wisconsin would pull away in the second half, outscoring the Golden Bears 31-24 for the 60-47 win.
In the exhibition game with La Crosse, Whyte led the Badgers with five assists in her 24 minutes of play off the bench, scoring 10 points and swiping six steals.
Bauman, the former Gatorade State Player of the Year, is a freshman from New Berlin, Wis. Bauman saw time in both exhibition games and co-led the Badgers along with guard Morgan Paige with 17 points against Concordia, a performance that did not surprise her coach.
“I watched Nicole — recruited her the last year and a half,” Kelsey said. “I expected that from her. Like I’ve been saying the whole time, even before she played an official game … I knew she would come in and do those things because Nicole shows those things in practice.”
According to Kelsey, Bauman’s confidence has her playing at a level above most first-year players.
“In high school, she was a very high energy player, a good scorer. She is not afraid; she doesn’t play like a freshman,” she continued. “Her demeanor and her confidence levels are very high. She almost looks like an upper classman. You wouldn’t be able to tell if you didn’t know who she was. She knows she can play.”
Bauman certainly cannot afford to play like a freshman this year. The Badgers face a grueling schedule, one that is considered to be of the nation’s toughest, with road games against Gonzaga and UW-Green Bay. However, while it looks plenty challenging on paper, these games can have an upside as well, according to Kelsey. Especially for a young team like Wisconsin.
“We know we’re going to have to battle the whole year,” Kelsey said. “When you play tough teams, it should motivate them to aspire to be the teams you’re playing that go to the NCAA tournament and have won their conferences. We don’t want to schedule soft and expect to play for the Big Ten [title]. We have to play that kind of competition to get ourselves ready for the Big Ten conference schedule because it’s going to be tough as well. I think when you play tougher teams, you give yourself a chance to compete in the Big Ten.”
Kelsey presents a valid point when you consider the Big Ten boasts four teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25: No. 19 Ohio State, No. 18 Nebraska, No. 21 Purdue and No. 8 Penn State.
Before UW begins Big Ten play and teams like Gonzaga, they must first open their regular season this Sunday, Nov. 11 at 6 p.m., against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The game will be a homecoming for first-year Panthers’ assistant coach Janese Banks. Banks played for the Badgers from 2004-08.
Banks may not receive a warm reception, however, as the Badgers have dominated the series 21-1 all-time, with the Panthers’ last win being a 78-77 decision in 1992.