Not much went well for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team against Iowa, as star forward Tara Steinbauer was lost for the season – and the rest of her career – with a torn ACL in her right knee, but the Badgers will nevertheless be looking to stay in contention for a Big Ten Championship Saturday against Michigan.
After a difficult 59-44 loss to the Hawkeyes on the road, the schedule isn’t easing up for the Badgers (14-11, 9-4 Big Ten), as they now have to take on a team they lost to earlier this year. The Wolverines (15-10, 8-5) are coming off a comfortable win over Indiana, and will not allow the Badgers a chance to recover from their loss.
Saturday’s match up will be especially emotional since it’s Senior Day for the Badgers, who are playing in their second-to-last regular season game at the Kohl Center.
“I could say I don’t think about it, but in the back of my mind we’re all going to be thinking about that we only have two more games at the Kohl Center,” senior forward Lin Zastrow said. “…You can think about it, but it also should just motivate you … you want to finish on a high note and just have fun with it.”
Steinbauer, though, will be absent. She went down in the first two minutes against Iowa and will have surgery at a date to be later determined.
“It is very unfortunate and I feel very sorry for Tara,” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “All four of our seniors have been injured this season and unfortunately for Tara, hers is the most severe. Our team has gone through this several times this season and our players know to be ready. Anya Covington, Cassie Rochel and Ashley Thomas are all ready to step up.”
Beyond the injury and the Senior Day factor, this game is crucial for Wisconsin to keep their Big Ten Championship and NCAA Tournament hopes alive. With the loss to Iowa, the players and coaches realize these final three games are must-wins.
In their first match up with Michigan, the Badgers spent most of the game trailing and struggled to find a consistent offensive rhythm. The Wolverines’ three-point shooting was also a major factor in the first game, as they made 11 three-pointers and shot over 45 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we just broke down with our principles [in the first game],” senior guard Alyssa Karel said. “They kind of stretched us out a little bit, were making threes. “… Kind of got to a lot more one-on-one as opposed to the team basketball that we’re usually playing, which is when we’re at our strongest.”
The Wolverines are led by senior guard Veronica Hicks, who averages 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and is complemented by junior guard/forward Carmen Reynolds, who puts up an average of 10.4 per game. A deep and athletic team, Michigan has five players who average more than seven points per contest.
Hicks and Reynolds both hit the 20-point mark in their first game against Wisconsin, and the Badgers will need to rely on their strong defense to contain them in this game.
“Michigan really played well at Michigan again the first time around, and I thought we didn’t compete, and that’s the first time that we haven’t in a long time,” assistant coach Ty Margenthaler said. “…They’re a tough team to defend because they run a really nice, tough motion offense. …We’re going to have to prepare, we’re going to have to be really mentally ready, and it’s going to take a group effort for sure.”
Although Wisconsin is hoping for things to go better this time around against Michigan, it is still focusing on the tough defense and inside play that has the Badgers sitting at third place in the Big Ten.
“It’s just kind of doing the same things that got us here in the first place,” Karel said. “We’re coming down to the point in the season where every game is a crucial, imperative game, and just going in there with that mentality [is important].”
Without Steinbauer, the Badgers will have to rely on junior Anya Covington and freshman Cassie Rochel. Wisconsin has been powered by its trio of seniors in Karel, Zastrow and Steinbauer, and pulling off a victory against the Wolverines will be even more of a challenge without a major piece of its inside game.
UW’s goal is to win a Big Ten title, and the Badgers need to win this game to achieve it.
“We want to win a Big Ten Championship; it’s never been done in [UW] history,” Margenthaler said. “This has been a special senior class, this is what I want for these girls and that would be a great dream to walk out of here with a Big Ten Championship.”