[media-credit name=’LEAH BELLACK/Herald photo’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′][/media-credit]
Following a thrilling 71-69 double-overtime victory over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the UW women’s basketball team squares off Thursday against Virginia Tech at the Kohl Center as a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Badgers (6-1) struggled in Tuesday’s game against the Panthers, but after escaping with the win and a six-game winning streak intact, they are happy to have come away with a positive result against in-state rival UWM.
“It was huge; it’s a tough game to play, because it was almost like a trap game,” head coach Lisa Stone said of the win. “It was huge because we won in a way that was different from the Baylor game, and different from the Villanova game. We found a way in the end to slug it out and get the job done and get the result on our side.”
Virginia Tech (5-1) enters Thursday’s contest having lost 72-43 in its last game against then-No. 17 Vanderbilt. Prior to the loss, the Hokies had opened the season with a five-game winning streak, including a thrilling 66-63 victory over St. Joseph’s in the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Hokies average 66 points per game, and junior guard Lindsay Biggs leads the team with 13.2 points per game. Junior forward Utahya Drye also averages double figures for the Hokies, scoring 12.5 points per game while leading the team with 6.2 rebounds per game.
“It starts off with just making sure that we play defense like we do every single game and coming out right away and setting the tone for the game,” junior forward Mariah Dunham said. “Honestly, I think if we play the defense we know how to play, it really doesn’t matter who the competition is because every player in our defense helps out one another.”
Through six games, Virginia Tech has averaged 17.67 turnovers per game against 17.5 per game for its opponents. The Hokies’ -0.17 turnover margin ranks just behind Boston College for last in the ACC.
The Badgers, on the other hand, have turned the ball over much less than their opponents. Wisconsin averages 15.14 turnovers per game compared to 18.28 turnovers per game by its opponents. With a +3.14 turnover margin, Wisconsin ranks second in the Big Ten.
“It’s important, especially for our team,” junior guard Rae Lin D’Alie said of taking care of the ball. “We need to do that to win along with playing good defense, so it’s really good.”
Wisconsin got the majority of its points Tuesday from its bench, including 16 from junior forward Mariah Dunham and 10 from freshman guard Jade Davis. Throughout their current six-game winning streak, a variety of stars have emerged for the Badgers, with any player capable of leading the team on any given night.
The backcourt starters for Wisconsin struggled Tuesday, shooting just a combined 5-for-25 from the field, including 1-for-10 beyond the arc. Seeing Dunham and Davis take charge in the game is encouraging for the Badgers, especially for D’Alie and fellow guard Alyssa Karel to know they don’t need to carry the team night-in and night-out.
“What Jade Davis did certainly was huge, and Mariah gave us some scoring, some great passing and great overall play inside,” Stone said. “When you’re getting that type of production off your bench, it shows that no matter who you throw out there, you can hopefully stay at that level or take it another step higher.”
With Thursday’s game being part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, it marks another opportunity for Wisconsin to prove their worth. Certainly, with a win against a top-10 team already on their record, a non-conference victory over Virginia Tech would go a long way toward improving not only the Badgers’ reputation, but also the reputation of the Big Ten as a whole.
“It’s very important because I think a lot of people kind of doubt the whole Big Ten/ACC Challenge thing,” Dunham said. “They always think that the ACC — men and women — is automatically going to win, but the [UW] men kind of proved it, and we just need to follow along in their footsteps and prove that we can beat them as well.”