The Wisconsin women's basketball team will head into a much-needed break looking to rebound from a five-game losing streak, a slide that saw the Badgers lose a pair to ranked teams and another in double-overtime.
UW's first chance to bounce back will come Wednesday against in-state foe UW-Milwaukee. It is a young series between the two schools that are separated by just an hour drive down I-94. The Panthers are a team the Badgers have historically dominated, winning the last seven meetings and 14 of 15 meetings all-time. UW-Milwaukee got their only win against the Badgers in 1992.
"We'll get excited for this game. It's a big game on their schedule, and they're coming off a win [Sunday] over Northern Michigan and we're coming off a loss. We'll throw records away and hopefully we can handle their pressure. They're very aggressive on-the-ball defenders and they like to attack the basket," head coach Lisa Stone said.
Wisconsin will then return home to play last year's Mid-Continent Conference champion Western Illinois. The Westerwinds are off to a solid start on the year at 6-2 and are led by 6-foot-7 senior Zane Teilane. The preseason MCC Player of the Year is averaging a double-double so far this season with 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
The road will get no easier as the Badgers begin Big Ten action on Dec. 29, hitting the road for a matchup with the Boilermakers of Purdue. Last year the Badgers finished the season 5-11 in the Big Ten and hope to get off to a quick start in the conference schedule after starting last year 1-6.
Currently ranked No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the Boilermakers upset the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame last Wednesday 65-54, a feat the Badgers could not accomplish earlier in the year. The Boilermakers are led by a couple of juniors in Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless. The duo is leading the team in scoring at 14.8 and 11.3 points per game respectively. The Badgers will face three top-20 teams in the next month that may prove just how far this team has come along.
After the Boilermakers, the Badgers play host to Northwestern, the only Big Ten team Wisconsin swept a year ago. They then head back on the road to face the No.12 Minnesota Golden Gophers. Last year, Wisconsin lost both games to the Gophers by a combined score of 158-102.
Wisconsin then treks to Happy Valley to take on the traditionally tough Nittany Lions before returning home to the Kohl Center to face the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans.
The Spartans were picked to finish second in the conference after reaching the national title game a year ago, and they feature a couple of preseason all-Big Ten selections in Lindsay Bowen and Liz Shimek.
If the Badgers are to compete in the extremely competitive Big Ten conference, this young team will have to find a way to win the close games. So far on the year they are 0-3 in games decided by five points or fewer.
"I really, truly believe in this team and our goals are still in sight. But we have to get it done on a more consistent basis, and that starts consistently in practice day-to-day, not just game-by-game. People evaluate your program by what they see in the games. They're not there every day in the trenches with practice. We need to transform practice, then, into the games and continue to grow," Stone said.