For the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, Sunday’s exhibition game against visiting UW-Stout was not as easy a win as the 98-60 final score indicated.
The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 8-0 lead after the Badgers failed to score on their first three possessions. With the substitution of freshman point guard Alyssa Karel came a 20-2 Badger run, sparked by fellow newcomer Lin Zastrow’s offensive rebound and ensuing point-blank layup.
“I think, in fairness to Wisconsin, we caught them a little off guard as far as our intensity level,” head coach Mark Thomas said. “In tribute to them, they really responded well and started doing what [Wisconsin] basketball is capable of doing.”
Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone was glad to see her team overcome an early deficit and eventually prevail.
“I’m proud of the way we responded. We didn’t panic.” Stone said. “This team has a different mentality this year, they’re hungry for victories. When called upon, they want to make the most of their minutes.”
Ahead 20-10, the Badgers never looked back, eventually increasing that lead to 25 by halftime. The game, however, was a tale of two halves.
The Blue Devils left the locker room with something to prove as they started the second half with a swagger and total control of the intensity. Grabbing the rebound off a missed 3-point attempt by senior star Jolene Anderson, Stout started what would become a seesaw battle, trading point for point.
“We came out of the locker room and did a better job of executing our half-court offense,” Thomas said. “We took control of the intensity for three or four minutes, and that was my goal coming in.”
Midway through the second half, the lead had been chipped to 19 off a few Danielle DeWitt free throws, but consistency prevailed. The Badgers were able to make more than half of their shots in the second half despite taking more shots than the Blue Devils, who shot 44 percent in the half.
“We did a really good job of focusing on getting the ball inside, better in the second half,” Stone said. “We found some success when the ball touched the post.”
The most significant game-changing statistic was the inside presence of Wisconsin, or lack thereof by Stout. The Badgers scored 60 points in the paint, tripling that scored by the Blue Devils down low.
“We knew the inside matchup was going to be a David-versus-Goliath matchup,” Thomas said. “We had a pretty good idea of what we were up against.”
Following the exhibition matchup, both teams feel confident about their performances and are looking ahead to the regular season schedule.
Stout sophomore Julia Hirssig was grateful just to play in the Kohl Center.
“It was a lot of fun, a great experience,” Hirssig said. “You don’t get that chance every day, no one does, and I will take a lot out of it.”
Stone feels as confident as ever in her team’s depth and potential abilities.
“I am very proud of our basketball team; our level of depth has been encouraging to me,” Stone said. “[We’re] able to go to our bench and not ‘drop off,’ to substitute folks in to a variety of positions to get a different look.”
The depth of this team is largely due to the team’s newcomers, especially Karel and Zastrow. The transition from high school basketball to the college scene can be difficult, but for the Badgers, the freshmen are comfortable in their new environment.
“I think they’re working hard and they’re willing to learn,” senior guard Janese Banks said of her new teammates. “They ask a lot of questions, and they’re just trying to do everything right. They love being Badgers.”
Added depth also comes from offseason improvement of the team’s returning players, such as Mariah Dunham.
“I think that she’s multidimensional, she can do a lot of things,” Stone said. “We can go as Mariah goes”