The Wisconsin women’s basketball team has started off the season 2-0 with two great defensive games and two double-doubles from senior Tara Steinbauer.
The Badgers hosted William & Mary (0-1) in their home opener at the Kohl Center Sunday, and Steinbauer led Wisconsin to a decisive 65-38 victory with 22 points and 12 rebounds in only 24 minutes of action. She shot 8-12 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc.
“A huge credit to my teammates, they found me on great penetration and drives and dishes,” Steinbauer said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guards right now. I think their passes inside have been right there, and obviously that puts in me in great position to be able to score on the block.”
Wisconsin’s team defense was outstanding. The Badgers allowed William & Mary to shoot only 27 percent from the field, holding the Tribe’s best player, Taysha Pye, to 12 points on 4-14 shooting.
Head coach Lisa Stone thought the Badgers came out a little flat in the first half, with Wisconsin only shooting 30 percent from the floor. Wisconsin took a 27-17 lead into the locker room at halftime and came out with a renewed focus, quickly extending its lead to 38-22 after a three-pointer by Steinbauer about three and a half minutes into the second half.
“We came in at halftime, and we talked a lot about coming out with energy and intensity,” Steinbauer said, “I just sort of channeled that I guess.”
So did the rest of the team. The Badgers would finish the game shooting 56 percent from the field in the second half and 44 percent for the game. Wisconsin remained aggressive the entire game, getting to the charity stripe 26 times. The Badgers converted on 73 percent of those free throws compared to the Tribe’s 7-14 from the line.
The Badgers were without senior captain and preseason media all-conference selection Alyssa Karel and junior guard Tiera Stephen for the second straight game due to injury, but other players have been able to fill the void extremely well. Freshman guard Morgan Paige has started in place of Karel in both games this season and had eight points and only one turnover against the Tribe.
“Younger players are getting all kinds of experience right now due to some people being out, and that experience is invaluable,” Stone said. “It’s going to help us because our bench strength and depth will become a big advantage for us.”
With Karel out, do-it-all sophomore Taylor Wurtz has taken much of the responsibility for bringing the ball up the floor and running the offense. When asked if handling the ball so much made it more difficult for her to know when to shoot, Wurtz made everyone laugh when she matter-of-factly stated, “I know when to shoot.”
She finished Sunday’s game with 14 points and deserves a lot of credit for Wisconsin’s low turnover number. The Badgers committed only eight turnovers during the game and only three in the second half.
“Taylor Wurtz is doing a great job handling the point,” Stone said. “She is handling the ball, she’s handling pressure and I think she is just doing an outstanding job.”
Another player who can’t be forgotten is senior forward Lin Zastrow. Although she has established herself as a low post player, her passing ability cannot be ignored. Through two games this season she has nine assists and only one turnover, something that Stone finds quite impressive from a player who is 6-foot-4.
Zastrow also played well Friday night in Wisconsin’s regular season opener at Saint Louis (0-1), as she paced the Badgers with 14 points and four assists, while Steinbauer collected her first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Badgers defense only allowed 11 points in the first half and only 32 for the game. The Billikens were only able to register a miserable 21 percent shooting night in a dominant 60-32 Wisconsin win. Twenty-eight of Saint Louis’ points came from frontcourt tandem Kathryn Hester and Lauren Woods.