After dominating the No. 10-ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday, it would seem that Badgerball should have a much easier game Tuesday night against UW-Milwaukee at the Kohl Center.
However, the Badgers know better, especially after sweating through a 56-55 victory against Marquette, another testy in-state rival, last Wednesday.
In-state rival games are always intense, and games against UW-Milwaukee are no exception to this principle.
Even though Wisconsin holds an 11-1 all-time series lead on the Panthers, the last two games have been particularly close.
Wisconsin escaped with a narrow 72-70 victory in 1997, while last season they came away with an even narrower 60-59 win. Both of those games were in Milwaukee, with the last matchup in Madison coming in 1996.
After going 16-12 overall and finishing second in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference with a 10-4 conference record, the Panthers have taken on a different look after losing seven letter-winners from a year ago.
In fact, Milwaukee carries only two seniors on its roster and is led by talented junior guard Jessica Wilhite, who leads the team in scoring with about 15 points per game.
The team also carries what they call the “Freshmen Five,” composed of Christine Gutierrez, Elizabeth Chudy, Malika Willoughby, Kimberly Becker, and Teri Huff.
This young, talented quintet starred in Milwaukee’s 77-52 win over Bowling Green on Saturday. They combined for 31 points, led by Gutierrez’s game-high 14 points. The freshmen also added three assists and three steals.
“I thought they were real effective,” UWM head coach Sandy Botham said after the game. “I thought our freshmen came out and really played with Bowling Green’s starters. They gave us the lead in the beginning, and they came out the same way in the second half.”
Juniors Angela Wenzel and Holly Tamm and senior forward Stefanie Kaufmann round out the leadership of the team.
While the Panthers may be solid on talent, they are short on experience, which accounts for part of their 4-4 record. After jumping off to a 3-1 start, UWM dropped three straight before defeating Bowling Green.
One of these losses included a 67-65 heartbreaker against Marquette, in which the Panthers were simply outplayed at the end of the game.
“It would have been great to beat Marquette,” Botham said. “But it just shows us we have to play 40 minutes of basketball and then we’re there.”
Playing 40 minutes of basketball is one thing that the Badgers have been very effective at so far this season.
This is evident in the great second halves they played in their blowout wins over Washington and N.C. State and in their comeback win against Marquette.
This ability to close out games is a reflection of Wisconsin’s experience, something they have more of than UWM, featuring four seniors, including the highly-experienced triumvirate of Kyle Black, Tamara Moore, and Jessie Stomski.
Size is also something the Badgers have more of than UWM. The Panthers feature five players at six feet or taller, while the Badgers have seven, including 6-foot-4 Sarah Jirovec and 6-foot-5 Emily Ashbaugh. Also, the Panthers have six players at 5-foot-8 or shorter, while Wisconsin only has one, 5-foot-6 junior guard Candas Smith.
Because of this size advantage it is evident that the Badgers will work to dominate the boards, while the Panthers will attempt to use their speed to force an up-tempo game.
Either way the game swings, however, Wisconsin knows that it is in for a dogfight and a possible upset if it isn’t ready to play.
However, judging by their results so far this year, it appears that that the Badgers will be plenty ready.