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Following a pair of home victories, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team will travel Wednesday to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to play in the Island Bracket of the Paradise Jam Tournament.
Wisconsin (2-1) will play three games over the holiday weekend, including Saturday’s matchup with No. 6 Baylor (4-0).
“It’s a great tournament [with] a great field [and] great competition,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “It’s a great challenge for us. We’re going out there to play basketball. Once it comes to game day, we’re [going to be] very, very focused.”
As they face strong competition this weekend, the Badgers will need a complete team effort, much like they got in Sunday’s 69-54 win over the Canisius Golden Griffins.
“It will be very important [to have a team effort], especially against Baylor,” junior guard Rae Lin D’Alie said. “We’re not going to beat anybody with just one player. We’re definitely going to have to bring our whole team — that’s all 13 of us — all the way through the bench. Everybody is going to have to show up with their ‘A’ game.”
Wisconsin begins play in the tournament Thursday with an afternoon game against Villanova (2-1). The game will be a rematch of last year’s WNIT second-round game, which saw the Wildcats knock off the Badgers 60-54 thanks to an impressive 11-of-21 performance from behind the arc.
Villanova has been led offensively in its first three games by senior forward Laura Kurz and junior guard Maria Getty, who average 15.7 and 14.7 points, respectively. As a team, the Wildcats average 56 points per game while limiting their opponents to 51.7 points.
“I think [they] will really challenge us and let us know where we are defensively,” freshman guard Jamie Russell said. “With the faster-paced game it will be hectic, but we’ll be alright.”
Wisconsin’s second game on the weekend will be a Friday afternoon matchup with Central Florida (1-2). UCF comes into the tournament having lost its last game 68-63 against Florida Atlantic and will face Baylor in its first tournament game Thursday.
The Knights have three players averaging double figures so far this season. Sophomore forward Emma Cannon leads the way averaging 17.3 points with sophomore guard Marshay White and junior Marcquitta Head average 11 points apiece.
“Our defense is definitely going to be tested,” D’Alie said. “We’re just going to have to make those adjustments and keep going with it.”
Finally, Wisconsin will wrap up its tournament play Saturday afternoon against Baylor. The Bears have started with four straight wins, including an 81-65 upset of then-No.2 Stanford.
Senior forward Rachel Allison leads Baylor, averaging a double-double with 17.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Also averaging double figures for the Bears are senior guard Jhasmin Player with 11.5 points per game, sophomore post Danielle Wilson with 11.3 points per game and sophomore guard Melissa Jones with 10 points per game.
“It’s going to be a really good learning experience,” Russell said. “They like to run, and I think it’s just going to let us know where we are in terms of Big Ten play.”
One of the biggest challenges for Wisconsin is going to be the quick turnaround and lack of time between games. With such a young team, the Badgers don’t have much experience playing three games against three difficult opponents in a span of three days.
“It’s going to be tough,” D’Alie said. “It’s three in a row, night after night after night. We’re just going to have to get tough and grind it out when we’re down there. Which is something we’re definitely capable of doing — we’ve got that grittiness about us.”
Another thing the Badger freshmen will have to adjust to is not going home to see their families for Thanksgiving.
“It’s going to be tough,” Russell said. “It’s one of my favorite holidays because you get together with your family, but I’ve got my new family to hang out with, and it’ll be fun to get out of the cold.”