There’s power in numbers. Unfortunately, Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey just doesn’t have those numbers right now.
After starting the season with a comfortable number of players, the UW women’s basketball team has suffered from the unfortunate and uncontrollable loss of players. What used to be a comfortable number has now been whittled down to nine.
Mikayla Dyer and Lindsay Smith both elected to transfer. Taylor Wurtz and AnnMarie Brown both saw their seasons end with injuries. Michala Johnson is on the bench, but ineligible due to transfer rules. The cupboard seems rather bare and Kelsey has been forced to use every tool available to her, regardless of their readiness for Big Ten basketball.
“It’s hard for them because a lot of the players that are having to play a lot of minutes probably wouldn’t have to have that load on them if others were healthy,” Kelsey said.
The consequences for such low numbers on this team have been inevitable, the obvious problem being the limited number of players available during the game as substitutes. Kelsey has been left overwhelmed with a lack of choices.
“Some people you just can’t take out,” Kelsey said. “It’s difficult when they do get tired [during the game], they’re humans.”
Some coaches have the ability to sub in five new pairs of fresh legs every seven minutes, a luxury Kelsey just doesn’t have. With only four subs left on the bench, Kelsey has instead had to comprise for the restrictions she has, but with every loss leaves something to be gained.
“More people need to step up to take on the roles of all the injuries we’ve had,” Nicole Bauman said, a freshman starting guard and Big Ten Freshman of the Week during December.
Bauman was thrust into a starting role with Wurtz’s initial absence back in November. Her freshman comrade Dakota Whyte has similarly been forced into an immediate backup position to point guard Tiera Stephen.
Many of the players have found stepping up means improving their defense and ball-handling, which is something that might become especially taxing on the team late in the game.
Forty minutes, the number of minutes some players, starters in particular, have been, or have gotten close, to playing in recent games can be a long time to play when the legs get heavy and the shots aren’t falling, but Kelsey doesn’t have many alternatives.
But frustration is a word that resonates with more than just the coach.
“The thing that frustrates me the most is that this year we were supposed to be pretty good with a lot [of] freshman coming in,” Cassie Rochel said.
Indeed, many really good freshmen did come in for the Badgers. Bauman was the 2012 Miss Basketball for Wisconsin, Shannon Malone’s AAU team was a national finalist, Whyte was a member of the 2012 Canadian Junior National Team and Tessa Cichy was a top-five finalist for the 2012 Miss Minnesota Basketball.
There were plenty of other reasons, besides the incoming freshmen, to believe this team could have been one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
That being said, the only positives Kelsey envisions is the loss of numbers can only stimulate improvement considering many of players have been forced into a position or a different role that will push their limits and build better players for the future.
“I also try to impart upon the players that are healthy that it’s going to help us in the future. It’s going to help us down the road,” Kelsey said.
They could use a pick-me-up right now, though.
With a record of 2-6 in January alone, the team has been in a position where it would seem easy to throw in the towel. Their record now stands at 10-12 as Wisconsin ranks 11th in the Big Ten. To take on a negative vibe would be easy, but that’s not the type of personality this team has.
Instead, they are looking to give the lone graduating senior, Tiera Stephen, a good send-off.
“It’s her senior year,” Rochel said. “You want to give her all we can, but we’re doing what we can with the players we have.”