In five WNIT appearances, including this year, Wisconsin boasts a 14-3 record, including a perfect 9-0 in third round, quarterfinal and semifinal games. With so much success in the WNIT, the Badgers are well aware of the road ahead of them in the next two weeks.
“We understand how quick the turnaround can be in the WNIT,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “We also hope that we can play every game at home, so it’s important that we encourage our fans to come out and ensure that we have a good fan base.”
Just two years ago, Wisconsin made an impressive run in reaching the WNIT final with a young team, a situation much like the one the Badgers find themselves in right now. With only one senior and three juniors on the roster, UW hopes to use this year’s WNIT to build toward an NCAA Tournament berth next year.
“It’s awesome to be playing in any type of postseason game, and we understand that,” junior captain Rae Lin D’Alie said. “Obviously we want to push for next year to be in the NCAA Tournament, but right now we’re in the NIT, and we’re happy with where we are right now.”
With just three upperclassmen on the roster, the Badgers know no matter the outcome of the tournament, the experience they earn from playing against strong competition in a single-elimination format will prove essential in a potential NCAA berth in 2010.
“What we’re doing with this tournament this year is preparing us for next season,” Stone said. “It’s like it was a couple years ago when we had a very young team. We’re inspired by the fact that we’re still playing and we have the opportunity to get real-life game experience, March game experience.”
D’Alie, along with fellow junior Teah Gant and senior Caitlin Gibson, was a member of the 2007 WNIT runner-up squad. Unfortunately, the 5-foot-3 guard fractured her hand within the first five minutes of the championship game as the Badgers concluded their season with a 72-56 loss.
Sophomores Alyssa Karel, Lin Zastrow and Tara Steinbauer joined D’Alie, Gant and Gibson in last season’s WNIT appearance, one that ended abruptly in a disappointing loss to Villanova after a first round bye. Alana Trotter, a redshirt sophomore, also experienced the postseason with the team but did not play as she was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Ohio.
With all but four players having one or more years of WNIT experience under their belts, the Badgers are confident in their ability to make another run in this year’s tournament.
“The experience really helps,” Gant said. “We have some young players who haven’t had this experience yet, so just being able to get in the tournament in my first two years helps a lot. It’s really a test of your mental toughness at this time of the season because your legs are tired, everything is tired, and you’ve just got to push through.”
Entering the tournament, Wisconsin went 15 days without facing an opponent, and it showed on the offensive end as UW managed just 19 points in the first half Sunday against Kentucky.
The Badgers found a way to get it done in the second half, however, scoring 30 points to outlast the Wildcats 49-45 and advance. Although the box score wasn’t pretty, the Badgers’ experience in the postseason has shown them that their only concern at this point in the season is surviving each game to advance to the next round.
“As a team it was a sloppy game, but it was sloppy for Kentucky too,” D’Alie said. “But we got a ‘W’ and that’s all that counts. Really, if we play the same and we get the ‘W’ again Thursday, I’d be fine with that too, as long as we win.”