The Wisconsin women’s basketball team faces what is likely to be its toughest test of the young season Thursday when it travels to Allen Fieldhouse to face the Kansas Jayhawks.
Awaiting the Badgers (4-5) in Lawrence, Kan., will be a high-scoring Jayhawks (7-1) offense that averages 77.1 points per game and shoots better than 50 percent from the field. On the other end of the hardwood, Wisconsin is riding its first multiple-game winning streak of the year after a nail-biting 48-46 victory over St. Louis Monday.
One of the biggest challenges to Wisconsin’s defense in the matchup with Kansas comes in the form of 6-foot-3 forward Carolyn Davis. A dominant post presence who lit up the Badgers for 29 points last year, the junior is currently averaging 16.9 points per contest and is one of the top post players in the Big XII.
Though UW will not be able to completely shut down Davis, the team plans on loading the paint with defenders in hopes of keeping the ball out of the forward’s hands.
“We’re really looking to limit the touches inside and really make [Davis] work for the points,” sophomore guard Morgan Paige said. “We know she’s very, very aggressive inside, and she’s very strong, so we really need to keep her from getting the ball in the first place.”
Still, the Jayhawks’ productive post play doesn’t end with Davis. Senior forward Aishah Sutherland puts up an average of 13.8 points per contest, preventing the Badgers from being able to focus their defensive effort on one star player.
Though Kansas will be a challenging opponent for Wisconsin, the Badgers have also shown significant improvement in their last several games. With a season-low 12 turnovers at the Kohl Center against Saint Louis, UW has been doing a much better job taking care of the ball as of late.
“Our guards did a great job of handling the ball. There wasn’t a lot of trouble getting it up the court even with pressure; we’ve really been working on our full court break,” sophomore forward Cassie Rochel said. “We just need to be really assertive with our passes and ball fakes and stuff like that so we don’t have 30 turnovers a game.”
The Jayhawks boast four players averaging at least 10 points per game, and limiting turnovers and scoring efficiently will be of particular importance in Lawrence.
Along with not handing over the ball, the Badgers believe minimizing easy fastbreak buckets is a key to slowing down a talented and speedy Kansas offense.
“With them being tall and big, one thing is just getting back and setting up our defense,” Rochel said. “We can’t let them get any easy transition buckets. We just really have to make them work for each possession.”
If the Badgers hope to pull off the road upset Thursday, they will have to do a superb job cleaning the boards. Outrebounded by Saint Louis in their last game, the battle for the glass gets no easier against a long Kansas squad that averages 40.1 rebounds per game to UW’s 34.4.
According to head coach Bobbie Kelsey, the Badgers have been focusing on rebounding all week after a disappointing performance on the boards Monday. However, the Badgers expect to be forced to play some zone defense against the Jayhawks to give them the best chance of slowing down a deep Kansas offense, making the rebounding game all the more difficult.
“The problem with zone [defense] is you’re not in good rebounding position,” Kelsey said. “You’re helping, you’re bumping off, and then people start being in no man’s land … just guarding an area but not the person in your area. And then that leads to missed box outs.”
In a matchup that comes as part of the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge, Wisconsin is hoping to make up for a tough 86-93 overtime loss to the Jayhawks last season at the Kohl Center.
While a road date with Kansas will certainly be a major test for Wisconsin’s defense, Kelsey realizes these tough non-conference matchups will only benefit the Badgers once Big Ten play arrives.
“It’s an NCAA-type team,” Kelsey said. “That’s just going to give us good experience when we go into our conference play. So it just gets you prepared for what you’re going to see in conference, and they’re pretty comparable to what we have in our conference.”