The UW women’s basketball team (6-1) will square off against N.C. State (5-2) Thursday night after bringing home a Thanksgiving tournament trophy for the third time in four years.
The matchup versus N.C. State comes as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, an annual event pitting teams from the two power conferences against one another. Last year, the Badgers bested Virginia Tech, 61-52, after losing their inaugural Challenge game to Virginia in 2007.
According to leading scorer Alyssa Karel, a junior guard who garnered MVP honors at last weekend’s World Vision Invitational, N.C. State will present a contrast in style for the Badgers.
“They’re really a fast-paced, up-tempo team,” she said. “I think our biggest thing is we can’t let them dictate how we play. We’ve got to play our game — we can’t get into a track race with them, because that’s just not how we play. So we have to make sure we get back on transition ‘D’ because we can’t let them run.”
Solid transition defense was a formula that proved quite successful for the squad in its weekend tournament in Eugene, Ore. After cruising to a 75-51 opening-round win over Portland State — a game in which the Badgers held the Vikings to just 27.5 percent shooting — the team faced Oregon, a Pac-10 opponent averaging 94.7 points a game, including a 117-point performance in their opening-round game.
Despite the gaudy statistics, UW held the Ducks to just 36.5 percent shooting and a season-low 57 points in a game the Badgers won on junior forward Lin Zastrow’s buzzer-beating post bucket.
“Our biggest focus in that game was transition defense,” Karel said. “That was really a big test for us, because that’s where Oregon got most of their points was in transition. … We knew that if we slowed them down in transition and made them run set plays, it would really work to our advantage.”
Against N.C. State, the same defensive principles need be applied: the Wolfpack enters Thursday’s showdown averaging 72.3 points and 10 steals a contest.
N.C. State is led by Marissa Kastanek, a 5-foot-9 guard from Lincoln, Neb., who Badger coach Lisa Stone said is “a good shooter … very aggressive and good going to the basket,” as well as sophomore Bonae Holston, a 5-foot-11 forward from Newport News, Va. Both players are averaging close to 11.5 points a game.
The game with N.C. State marks the fourth away game for Wisconsin in just six days, part of a stretch that sees the team play eight games in 18 days.
“You know [there’s] a little fatigue,” sophomore forward and tri-captain Anya Covington said. “But this is what we do. Go home, get some sleep and get up the next day, ready to go.”
Helping to ease the weariness is the recent return of 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Ashley Thomas, who made her debut last Friday with a 3-of-3 performance against Portland State.
Thomas gives the Badgers four legitimate post options, something the team will need against the Wolfpack, which boasts four players taller than 6-foot-3.
The extra height and interior defense will be even more valuable this coming Sunday when Wisconsin opens its Big Ten Conference slate in Columbus, Ohio, against No. 3-ranked Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, the reigning Big Ten champs and preseason favorites, feature the consensus preseason conference Player of the Year, Jantel Lavender, who is currently averaging 24.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, as well as last year’s Freshman of the Year, Samantha Prahalis, who thus far has posted a double-double average of 14 points and 10 assists per outing.
However, when asked about preparing her squad for the formidable Big Ten opener, Stone said, “Not yet. We need to take care of the ACC Challenge first and represent the Big Ten.”