In its final non-conference game of the year, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (3-7) is heading west to face the Wyoming Cowgirls (6-2) at the Arena Auditorium Center in Laramie, Wyo.
After reeling off two straight wins and finally gaining some momentum, this matchup could play a big role in helping the Badgers get off to a strong start in Big Ten play. However, a win against the Mountain West opponent will not come easily, as Wisconsin has never beat Wyoming in their two previous matchups.
“I think [a win] would be huge,” junior guard Jade Davis said. “We’ve kind of been in a rut lately, and I think these past few games have really helped us get out of it…gain a little bit more confidence. I think a win going into Big Tens would just be perfect. It would just give us that momentum we need and that confidence we need.”
Wyoming is a team that uses a motion offense reliant on the versatility of its players. One challenge for the Badgers will be figuring out how to defend this unfamiliar style of play. With bigger players out on the perimeter, the Cowgirls will help Wisconsin continue to gain experience defending different offenses.
“Their strength is their motion,” said assistant coach Ty Margenthaler. “They have really constant movement and I think that’s something that we’re going to have to be really alert and really ready [for]. Anytime that we stand or get a little stagnant, that’s when they do a slip screen. I feel like if we can pressure and have great alertness, we’ll be in good shape on defense.”
Wyoming is led by a duo of seniors who both average more than 15 points a game in forward Hillary Carlson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, and guard Aubrey Vandiver. Behind their versatile lineup of players, the Cowgirls average nearly 65 points a game and present a true test for the Badger defense.
Facing a very experienced squad returning four of its starters from last year’s team that reached the third round of the women’s NIT Tournament, Wyoming will certainly come into this game ready to take on a Big Ten opponent at home. However, the Badgers are sticking to their roots in preparation for the Mountain West opponent.
“I think we just need to stick to what we’ve been working on,” Davis said. “Primarily defense, and just taking care of the ball and just really working together and team unity and working together in every aspect of the game.”
Following a victory over in-state rival UW-Milwaukee on Sunday, Wisconsin is hoping to see much of the same success in the paint. With three talented post players in senior forwards Tara Steinbauer and Lin Zastrow, along with junior forward Anya Covington, UW has plenty of options inside.
The Wisconsin coaching staff feels that if the team can keep up the strong defensive play and ability to get the ball to the post players that it showed against Milwaukee, then the Badgers could be on their way to a third straight win.
“I feel really confident with our matchups,” Margenthaler said. “I also feel really good after last night’s competition with Jade guarding the perimeter. Again we’re going to have to just continue using our strength to get the ball inside and let Tara, Lin, and Anya go to work.”
Beyond the court, the game presents some unique challenges due to the location of the game. With the Arena-Auditorium Center having the highest elevation of any NCAA Division I basketball arena in the country, it is certainly a new environment for the team.
“Well, it’s a little harder to breathe there, that’s the biggest thing I can think of” Covington joked.
Outside of the elevation factor, Wisconsin will try to continue to improve on their turnovers in this game, an area of the game that has plagued the team all season. If the Badgers can pick up a crucial road win, then they will have the right mindset going into their two week break before their Big Ten opener against Purdue.
“We just need to seal the deal,” Covington said. “We’ve had two in a row, just let’s get this win and continue to grow so it can propel us into the Big Ten season.”