As the UW women’s basketball team broke up Wednesday’s practice with a four-minute mini-game in preparation for tonight’s game against Iowa, head coach Jane Albright barked out orders after her first-stringers gave up an offensive rebound and a turnover on consecutive possessions.
“Settle down! Box out!” Albright said, with just a hint of frustration in her voice.
A revealing directive, considering that those two skills have been conspicuously absent during much of Wisconsin’s current five-game losing streak. In those games, the Badgers have averaged more than 20 turnovers a game, and they’ve given up about 14 offensive rebounds per game.
But Wisconsin hasn’t played universally poor basketball throughout its streak; rather, the Badgers haven’t been able to recover from their occasional mental lapses.
“I thought that when we were at Purdue, everything came together real nice for about 31 minutes,” said forward Kristi Seeger, referring to the four consecutive turnovers Wisconsin committed with nine minutes left in Sunday’s game. “We just need to do that for 40 minutes.”
To the Badgers’ credit, they’ve navigated these waters in the past against Iowa. When Wisconsin traveled Dec. 30 to Iowa City, it allowed 18 offensive boards and committed 20 turnovers — and still won 68-61. In that game, the Hawkeyes’ star guard Lindsey Meder scored only nine points — half her normal total — and the Badgers’ defense harassed Iowa into 17 turnovers and a 24-66 shooting percentage.
Tonight, Iowa will match an agile, undersized lineup against a Wisconsin rotation whose offense runs primarily through power forward Jessie Stomski. The Badgers tower over the Hawkeyes at nearly every position, but Iowa makes up for its lack of height by running a triangle offense that produces points through fluid passing, efficient floor spacing and the creation of one-on-one opportunities for Meder, who has taken 117 more shots than her nearest teammate.
“Lindsey can just score anywhere,” Albright said. “We’re going to put a lot of pressure on her.”
For only the second game since Jan. 20, Albright will be able to insert freshman Ebba Gebisa into her rotation. Gebisa played 24 minutes Sunday against Purdue, but her ankle still hasn’t healed back to pre-injury levels.
“It’s a little bit sore because I did come out and play a lot, doing some stuff in actual practices,” Gebisa said. “Hopefully it will continue to get better.”
With Gebisa back, the Badgers will press more on defense and run a better fast break, two styles of play that they shied away from during Gebisa’s absence. Also, Gebisa will give more rest to Stomski and center Emily Ashbaugh, both of whom saw their playing time shoot up to undesirable levels during Gebisa’s three-game absence.
“It’s just a shot of adrenaline,” Albright said. “Jessie and Emily, they shouldn’t have to be playing 42 minutes [like] in the Indiana game.”
Tonight’s game takes on additional importance in light of its implications on the Big Ten tournament seedings. Right now, Iowa trails Wisconsin by a half-game in the conference standings (the Badgers hold fifth place, and Iowa holds sixth). Should Wisconsin drop its sixth in a row tonight, the Badgers would fall to sixth place.
What’s the difference? The fifth-place team receives a first-round bye in the conference tournament and plays No. 4 in the second round. By contrast, No. 6 has to play No. 11 in the tournament’s first round. If No. 6 wins, it advances to play No. 3, the seed that most likely will fall to Purdue, Minnesota or Penn State — all teams to which Wisconsin has lost in the past three weeks.