With one WNIT victory under its belt, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team is set to host St. Bonaventure at the Kohl Center Thursday for a third round matchup.
The Badgers advanced after rallying Sunday to defeat Kentucky 49-45 after a slow start that made evident just how rusty Wisconsin was following a 15-day layoff.
Now, head coach Lisa Stone hopes her squad is ready to get back on track and make a run for the WNIT title.
“I’m proud of our kids because that first game is always the hardest,” Stone said. “Anytime you’re playing in March it’s great. Our players want to continue to compete, and we could end the season with a ‘W.’ That’s encouraging for us.”
Wisconsin (19-14) will take on a St. Bonaventure team that finished tied for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 conference and is enjoying its first postseason berth in program history. The opportunity to keep playing in late March for the first time is one that will make the Bonnies an even tougher opponent than they would be normally.
“Everybody’s got to come ready to play,” junior guard Rae Lin D’Alie said. “This is the first time they’re in the tournament so they’re probably jacked, and they’ve got a lot of seniors, so they’re going to play hard and they’re a smart team.”
The Bonnies (22-10) are a small, perimeter-based team, something that will help the ailing Badgers and their new lack of depth inside.
Offensively, forward Dana Mitchell leads St. Bonaventure with 15.7 points per game, which is good for second in the Atlantic 10. Despite Mitchell’s size at 6-foot-1, she frequently plays on the perimeter, posing matchup problems for opposing forwards.
“[Mitchell] is versatile both inside and out and she’s looking to score all the time,” Stone said. “She’s guard-like as a post, and we’re going to start Caitlin (Gibson) on her. Caitlin has length, so I’m hoping that works.”
With forward Lin Zastrow going down in the Badgers’ victory Sunday, UW has been forced to insert Gibson — who has started just one game this season — into the starting lineup.
Gibson played perhaps her best game of the season Sunday, scoring a season-high eight points, along with a season-high five rebounds in 22 minutes of play, also the most she has played during her senior campaign.
Wisconsin will look to use its size advantage with Gibson and sophomore forward Tara Steinbauer inside, a combination that led the Badgers to victory in their first WNIT game.
“It was hard losing Lin, but St. Bonaventure is a smaller team, so we still have some size on them,” junior guard Teah Gant said. “We just have to stick to what we’ve been doing. We still have Caitlin and the other three post players, so we’re just going to stick to the same game plan.”
“Caitlin will do a great job inside for us,” D’Alie added. “We’ll establish an inside game right off the bat and it should be good.”
Another strength for the Bonnies is their accuracy from beyond the arc, shooting an Atlantic 10-best 36 percent from 3-point range on the season.
UW starting guards D’Alie, Gant and Alyssa Karel, along with key reserve Jade Davis, will be faced with the task of defending the Bonnies’ strong 3-point shooters, a category in which the Badgers rank eighth in the Big Ten on the season.
“It’s very important for all of us to step up, especially the guards,” Gant said. “They really get you spread out so we have to make sure we stick to our defensive principles and make sure we work as a team the entire game.”
Though Wisconsin hoped to earn an NCAA bid, the Badgers understand the opportunity presented by the WNIT and are taking it as seriously as they would any other postseason tournament.
“We’re kind of disappointed that we didn’t have a good enough r?sum? to get an NCAA bid,” Gant said. “But the WNIT is just as important, so we’re just really looking to work hard every game and get to the championship and win it.”