Following back-to-back road losses and on the heels of a five-game losing streak, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team returns to the Kohl Center Thursday to face Penn State.
The Badgers will look to not only snap its losing skid but also to avenge a 58-56 overtime loss when they face the Nittany Lions on the road.
“It’s a great game for us at home to hopefully get back on track,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “The next game is an important piece in the puzzle in getting momentum going toward the Big Ten tournament.”
In order to get its first win since Jan. 18, Wisconsin will look to get its offense and defense back on track, both of which have struggled during the losing streak, especially over the last two games.
When the Badgers traveled to Michigan for a Feb. 1 matchup with the Wolverines, they came out flat from the start on both sides of the ball, leading to a 70-48 rout in Ann Arbor.
Against Purdue in Sunday’s game, UW played well in the first half, trailing by just six at the break. They couldn’t keep it going in the second half, however, letting the game slip away early in the period before making a comeback to lose by a 66-49 margin.
Part of the reason Wisconsin has struggled to get stops on the defensive end has been an inability to grab boards, allowing opponents second-chance points.
“I think right now our biggest struggle is rebounding,” guard Alyssa Karel said. “We’re having trouble grabbing both defensive and offensive boards. … I think that’s one thing we definitely need to buckle down on and just get done.”
While the Badgers have only been outrebounded by a margin of 106-101, they have had trouble giving up crucial offensive rebounds, which have led to second-chance points.
The best example is Purdue’s Danielle Campbell grabbing her own rebound and finding Brittany Rayburn for a 3-pointer as time wound down at the Kohl Center in the Badgers’ last home game.
In the last meeting between Wisconsin and Penn State — which marks the beginning of the current five-game losing streak — the Badgers held a 17-point lead near the midway point of the second half before allowing the Nittany Lions to go on a 19-0 run and eventually send the game into overtime.
UW’s problem against the Nittany Lions and both games against the Boilermakers was one that has been a recurring theme all season: an inability to finish strong in the second half.
“It’s the story of our season so far; we just have trouble finishing games,” Karel said. “If we don’t start doing it in this game, I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen.”
In overtime at Penn State, UW could not stop Tyra Grant, who scored 12 of Penn State’s 13 points in the extra period, including the game-winner as time expired. Grant scored a game-high 32 points in the game on 12-of-24 from the field and 3-for-6 beyond the arc.
As Grant and the Nittany Lions travel to Madison, the Badgers will need to find a way to slow her down to have success Thursday.
“We’ve just got to keep her emotions in check and stop her together as a team,” junior captain Rae Lin D’Alie said. “When she gets emotional, she’s really good. It helps a lot that we’re at home so she doesn’t have that home crowd behind her.”
Offensively, Wisconsin’s 56 points at Penn State are the most they’ve scored during the losing streak, as they have averaged just 48 points in the four games since.
Over the last two games, the Badgers have struggled to put points on the board in the absence of Mariah Dunham, who was second on the team in scoring before her dismissal.
UW has gotten at least two points from each player on the roster over the same period, but aside from Karel — the team’s leading scorer at 13 points per game — no player has averaged more than six points in the last two games.
“We just need to play basketball, just simply play,” Stone said. “We’re trying to find that team that we had earlier in the season, and we need to play with confidence and get it back.”