One down, one to go.
That’s the mentality of the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team this week as they prepare for their final regular season game.
After knocking off the Big Ten-leading Michigan State Spartans, the Badgers have another shot at the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes, who took over the conference lead following the Spartans’ loss and can clinch the conference title Thursday with a win.
“We have to look back at the Michigan State game and see what we did well, and we have to continue doing that,” forward Lin Zastrow said. “We’ve got to go in there with confidence, but respect too. They’re a great team and they know how close they are to a conference championship.”
After earning their biggest win of the conference season at home over the Spartans, the Badgers will face their biggest challenge yet in Big Ten play, facing the 14th-ranked Buckeyes on the road at Value City Arena.
Ohio State enters Thursday’s contest with a three-game winning streak, with their last win coming Sunday on the road at Indiana by a 79-67 margin.
Senior forward Star Allen tied a career high Sunday with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting en route to being name Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts.
Allen will present plenty of matchup problems for the Badgers with her size and quickness at the post position, something they struggled against when the teams first met back in January at the Kohl Center.
“Like any Big Ten post players, it’s tough; it’s a really physical game against Jantel Lavender and Star Allen,” forward Tara Steinbauer said. “What they are really good at is they sprint the floor in transition and not all post players in the Big Ten do that. They’re both really skilled at doing that, so getting back in transition is going to be key for us.”
When the two teams previously met, the Buckeyes were held to a season low 33.9 percent from the floor, but that wasn’t enough to stop Allen and Lavender. The two each recorded double-doubles in the game with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 16 points, 15 rebounds for the duo, respectively.
If Wisconsin hopes to come away with a victory Thursday, it will be imperative for Zastrow, Steinbauer and anyone else matched up on Allen and Lavender to keep the Buckeyes’ forward duo off the boards on a consistent basis.
“Star Allen certainly is going to be someone to make sure we keep her off the boards,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “And if you’re guarding her, it’s not so much that you have to get the rebound, you have to make sure you keep her off the boards. Jantel Lavender is obviously one of the best in the league (as well).”
The other thing that the Badgers need to do better than last time sounds pretty simple: shoot the ball well. When the Buckeyes came to Madison, they held UW to a Kohl Center record low 25.5 percent shooting from the floor.
Leading the way for Wisconsin in that game was Zastrow who scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds on a night when leading scorer Alyssa Karel was feeling a bit under the weather, resulting in a 1-for-11 shooting performance.
Zastrow will likely need another strong performance Thursday for the Badgers, something she has done quite consistently over the Badgers’ last month of play.
“I like the urgency I see out of Lin Zastrow. I thought she had just a great game [Sunday] handling the basketball, scoring for us,” Stone said. “I think she’s one of the best post defenders in the league, and she’s going to go against [two] of the best post players. So it’s certainly a boost of confidence for us going into Thursday, and we’re hoping to carry over.”
When it comes down to it, the Badgers may not be able to improve their position in the Big Ten standings with a win, but they will take all the momentum and confidence they can get going into the Big Ten Tournament just one week from Thursday.
“It’s going to be a gritty game,” Steinbauer said. “I expect it to be hard-fought, and I know it’s going to be very physical. It’s going to be a long 40 minutes, but I think if we bring our ‘A game,’ there’s a really good opportunity for us in the game.”