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Sophomore Taylor Wurtz could bury Minnesota after shooting 4-of-7 from the arc against Michigan.[/media-credit]

As the conference season gets underway for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (9-9), the Badgers have finally started to play some more familiar foes.

Thursday, UW will face Minnesota for the second time in the last two weeks, just a couple games after the Badgers played Purdue twice in the same amount of time. Although this may seem like an obvious advantage, the team must remember that the Golden Gophers also have a good idea of how Wisconsin will approach the game.

“The advantage is it’s fresh in your mind, you have a scouting report and you have a good idea of what they’re going to do,” Stone said at a Monday press conference. “The fact is they have a good idea what you’re going to do. And now we’re on the road, so it will be that much more difficult.”

Despite a recent loss to Michigan, the Badgers have still gotten off to a solid 4-2 start in Big Ten play and realize they need to finish the season strong if they hope to bring home a conference title or qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Taking down
Minnesota on the road will be no easy task, and the fact that Wisconsin’s opponent is coming off a bye week will only make things more difficult.

Although road games always present a challenge, Stone recognizes that if the Badgers want to make a postseason run, they will have to reel off some tough victories away from the Kohl Center.

“As a coach, you try not to make [road games] different, but it is different,” Stone said. “You can’t hide that. It’s different. You’re not at home anymore. But we’ve got to find a way and be a little tougher on the road.”

The Gophers are currently winless in conference play, but Stone emphasized that their record is not changing the way Wisconsin prepares for this game. Minnesota has been in a position to win several close Big Ten games this year but has never managed to come out on top.

“They’ve got good size inside that will be an imposing force for Lin Zastrow, and they need a good-sized player against Lin ,” Stone noted. “We’re not looking at the record. We know that they’re much better than their record shows, and at their place you can’t look at that record at all.”

Another component of the game UW will try to regain when they travel to Williams Arena is defense, something that has been the primary focus of the team all year. Following a couple strong defensive performances to open conference play, Wisconsin surrendered 75 points to Michigan Sunday.

“Tomorrow in practice, we’ll go back to some core drills,” Stone said. “Our players know it. They know we didn’t play well defensively, and that’s who we are. I expect a great response on Thursday.”

Success in the two upcoming games against Minnesota and Illinois could certainly depend on the play of guard Taylor Wurtz. The sophomore kept UW in the game against the Wolverines, hitting 4-of-7 shots from beyond the arc in the loss.

Wurtz, who has continued to improve over the year, led Wisconsin with 14 points and once again showed the coaching staff how important her performance is to this team.

“I continue to encourage her to shoot the ball,” Stone said. “That’s her role on our team. She’s got to score the ball and rebound for us, and she’s been doing a great job. Last night, her second half was huge in our comeback.”

If the Badgers plan to close out the season in an impressive manner, they will have to continue to limit their turnovers. An area of the game Wisconsin struggled with early in the year, they have vastly improved their ability to take care of the ball and have averaged just over 13 turnovers per game in Big Ten competition.

“Our turnovers have a direct effect on our defense,” Stone said. “If we turn it over, there’s nothing we can do in transition defense when they’re getting a run out. Our defense relies on our offense taking care of the ball.”