When a team, regardless of the sport, is struggling, it often finds solace in the comforts of its home building. The Wisconsin women’s basketball team hopes to do just that Wednesday evening as it returns to home court for act two of a Border Battle matchup against Minnesota.
Wisconsin (10-13, 3-8 Big Ten) dropped its last game against Indiana 76-69, a game in which it was down 12 points at halftime and found itself down by 18 points in the second half.
“It’s like we were fighting uphill the whole time,” head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “We lacked that passion and competitiveness.”
Morgan Paige was a bright spot for Wisconsin in the defeat. The senior guard scored 20 points, with nine of those points coming from the free throw line. She is fifth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage with an 86.1 percent conversion rate from the charity stripe.
“Being a good free-throw shooter, that’s always a weapon you want to use,” Paige said. “Being aggressive and getting to the rim is only putting yourself at an advantage … being able to step up to the foul line and hit free-throws gives us free chances at points.”
The starting point guard role has been fully assumed by sophomore Nicole Bauman, who has contributed an outside shooting presence around the perimeter. She says the starting role has given her the confidence to take more shots. She, like her coach, also expressed concerns about the team’s lack of intensity.
“One thing we talked about was getting ourselves motivated and excited,” Bauman said. “Lately it seems like we’ve been kind of going with the flow and not having any excitement in our game.”
The Badgers have now lost seven of their last eight and will look to right the ship in the Kohl Center against the Gophers Wednesday. Minnesota defeated Wisconsin by a score of 64-53 in the teams’ first meeting this season in Minneapolis, even though the Badgers took a six-point lead into the half and led for 27 of the 40 minutes.
“You can’t just start [the game], and you can’t just finish it,” Kelsey said. “You have to play the whole 40 minutes, and until we kind of learn that, it’s going to be hard for us.”
In the first matchup of the season, Wisconsin’s defense was able to contain Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui. Standing at 6-foot-5, she will be the tallest player on the court against Wisconsin.
Zahui is a monster on the boards, pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game to lead the Big Ten. The redshirt freshman from Sweden averages 15.9 points per game, but only had four points in the first matchup on January 23. This was largely due to the fact that Zahui found herself in foul trouble early on and played only 15 minutes.
Discussing Zahui’s foul trouble caused Kelsey to talk about her plan to keep her key player in the post, Michala Johnson, out of trouble.
Recently, when Michala Johnson has gotten into foul trouble, it has been her younger sister who has answered the bell. Freshman Malayna Johnson has seen increased minutes over the past few games, as Kelsey feels confident in giving the young player more playing time.
With Zahui out in the first meeting between the two teams, it was Minnesota forward Micaella Riché who picked up the pace for the Gophers. The senior, who averages 6.9 points per game, lit up the Badgers for 15 points that evening.
However, the key on defense will be to stop junior point guard Rachel Banham. She earned all-Big Ten honors as a sophomore last season and is well on her way to do so again in the 2013-2014 campaign, leading the Big Ten in scoring with 22.3 points per game.
“She’s a tough cover. There is a reason she leads our conference in scoring,” Kelsey said. “She does it all. She has a deep-range game, a pull up game, she has a layup game, she has a passing game, she can dribble out of trouble.”
The Border Battle is intense right now, particularly with the recent Gopher attempted invasion of Madison. The UW men’s hockey team recent swept No. 1 Minnesota over the weekend, the Gophers’ men’s basketball team comes to town Thursday night and the Minnesota women’s hockey team visits this weekend in a much-anticipated matchup between the top-two ranked teams in the nation. The Wisconsin women’s basketball team looks to uphold its end of the bargain Wednesday.