With all the different teams the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (11-9, 6-2 Big Ten) has played this year, fans might assume that Northwestern (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten) compares well to one of those teams.
But that isn’t the case, and the Badgers actually see a lot of themselves in the inside-out approach taken by the Wildcats, who they face Sunday at the Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“Everything goes through Amy Jaeschke, their post player,” assistant coach Ty Margenthaler said. “They run a lot of sets to get the ball inside, but they’re a little different than we’ve faced all year. The other teams were more transition, try to get up and down a little bit, and they want to get in the half-court game like we do. They’re really comparable to us.”
Jaeschke, a senior center who averages 22.9 points and 9.4 rebounds, is one of the best players in the Big Ten and the focal point of the entire Northwestern offense. Wisconsin realizes it will have to play some of its best defense of the year to keep Jaschke from dominating the inside game and forcing other players to score.
The Badgers have an impressive post game themselves, and after a game in which they racked up 28 points in the paint, they will be looking to get the ball inside. Although UW has plenty of talent in its backcourt – most notably leading scorer Alyssa Karel – the guards have no problem taking on the role of a passer.
“We’re just going to get it to whoever’s hot,” Karel said. “Amy [Jaeschke] is a great post player for Northwestern, so that’s going to be a really fun matchup between Lin [Zastrow] and her and Tara [Steinbauer] in there. If [the inside game] is working for us that game, yeah we’ll go for that. Otherwise, our guards are just going to stay aggressive and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Standing alone at second place in the conference at 6-2, how much longer Wisconsin’s season lasts could come down to picking up tough victories on the road, such as this matchup with Northwestern. Due to their rough stretches in the non-conference season, the Badgers will have to maintain their strong conference record to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“I definitely think it’s important for us to keep that underdog mentality and not forget the fact that we are where we are because of the hard work that we put in early on in the season,” senior forward Tara Steinbauer said. “Earlier in the season when we went on an 0-7 run we could kind of reason that there’s so much time left in the season, but that’s not really an excuse now.”
Following a couple days off that players believe came at the perfect time, right in the middle of the Big Ten season, Wisconsin should have plenty of energy heading into Evanston, and they will certainly need it to stop the Wildcats.
Averaging 43.5 percent from the field and nearly 35 percent from three-point range, Northwestern has no shortage of offense and puts up an average of 70 points per game. To complement Jaeschke, the Wildcats boast three other players in junior forward Brittany Orban, sophomore forward Kendall Hackney and senior guard Beth Marshall who all average at least 10 points per game.
“We can’t just focus on [Jaeschke], because they’ve got other great players who are able to make big plays for them,” Steinbauer said. “So, I think it’s going to be very much a team effort and we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game for all 40 minutes and play as hard as we know how.”
Now that Wisconsin is more than halfway through the Big Ten season, how it finishes up the year probably depends on something that has powered the team all year: senior leadership.
“I give our seniors credit, because when we did go through that tough stretch in the early parts … they stayed positive, stayed together,” Margenthaler said. “And now, we’re benefiting the rewards to it, and we’re winning and we’re confident … I just think our seniors are going to take us as far as we’re going to go.”