Just a game removed from their clash with the Kansas Jayhawks and their dominant scoring forward Carolyn Davis, the Wisconsin Badgers will once again face an elite scorer Sunday.
When Wisconsin (4-6) welcomes Drake (8-1) to the Kohl Center, the Badgers will have to try to handle senior forward Rachael Hackbarth, the Bulldogs’ double-double machine.
It will be something of a homecoming for Hackbarth, as the senior forward played high school ball in Wisconsin. A native of Colgate, Hackbarth played for Wisconsin Lutheran where she was a four-time letter winner and set the school record by shooting 69.8 percent from the floor as a senior.
The senior has continued her success at the next level, as the Wisconsin native averages 17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this season. Through six games the forward has already compiled an impressive three double-doubles. The senior also knows how to get to the line, as Hackbarth has almost triple the amount of free throw attempts as everyone else on the team.
If Wisconsin hopes to control the game against the Bulldogs, the team will need to focus on controlling the boards. Against St. Louis last week, Wisconsin was outrebounded 45-33 and gave up 21 offensive rebounds. With the Badgers just barely out-rebounding their opponents on average, the team will have to tighten up and keep a body on Hackbarth the entire night under the rim.
Look for Wisconsin sophomore forward Cassie Rochel or senior forward Anya Covington to match up with Hackbarth down low all night, although Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey may have the athletic Taylor Wurtz guard the Drake star.
Offensively, the Badgers have a double-double threat of their own. Wurtz has continued to shine in the new Wisconsin offense, as the junior from Brandon, Wis., currently averages 16.7 points and 9 rebounds per game. When the offense is running efficiently, Taylor gets open looks and open threes. The junior is currently shooting 40.3 percent from beyond the arc, good for second best on the team. Even if the Badgers’ offense should sputter, Wurtz will need to continue her offensive dominance and finishing touch around the basket to keep the Wisconsin machine running on the offensive end.
Whether Drake will bring full court pressure or not remains to be seen, but it may not matter. Wisconsin, after starting the season by committing a combined 68 turnovers in the first three games, has largely brought down the statistic. Against relaxed pressure and minimal full court pressure, the Badgers committed their lowest total turnover margin of the season against the Billikens, turning the ball over only 12 times in the duration of the contest.
“We just have to keep working on everything each day,” Rochel said. “We have gotten better on our turnovers but we continue to work on it in practice as well as boxing out. Each aspect as it pops up in a game we work on; you just have to keep practicing hard until you correct that.”
Kelsey has made sure to tidy up aspects of Wisconsin’s ball movement.
“I think people understand it’s important to value the ball,” Kelsey said. “We watch it. They see what they’re doing and how they’re playing. We only pick it up when we have someone to pass too. We’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary dribbling and now on passes we hold and look for passes. Also I think that they’re making sure the person is open before they throw it. Maybe they’ll set more screens to shorten the pass, a lot of things contribute to it but those are some main points.”
Wisconsin has still struggled to find a complete victory this season. In some games, the Badgers have shot extremely well, as they showed in the second half of the Billkens game last week. In other games, the Badgers have shot well but been beaten badly on the boards.
Whatever may happen Sunday, the Badgers are just looking to find that sustained effort where all aspects of the offensive and defensive systems are working correctly and efficiently.
“We’re almost there,” sophomore Morgan Paige said. “We show glimpses in games of our potential and go through minute stretches where everything is clicking but then all the sudden a wheel falls off. We just have to focus in on doing the little things. When we do the fundamentals we usually have a four minute spread that looks very good. If we can maintain focus and discipline we should be good go going through this season.”