It has been a struggle this season for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. At one point enduring a six-game losing streak, the Badgers were clawing to scratch off a single W in the win column. But the Badgers have answered their struggles in recent weeks with a new kind of streak.
Winners of three straight conference games and four of their last six, the Badgers are playing with a renewed sense of energy, responding strongly to a rough start that saw the team lose three straight to open up conference play. The string of victories is something Wisconsin is new to this season, as the team had not won consecutive games since the last week of November.
For the players, this streak was always a feat they knew they could accomplish.
“We’ve always expected to win those close games in the past,” senior forward Ashley Thomas said. “It’s disheartening when you work so hard in the first half and then you come back out in the second half and it’s almost like a completely different game. It’s really encouraging we’ve taken that step and grown through that and now we’re able to play the complete 40 minutes.”
One of the areas the Badgers have improved on vastly to this point is closing out games. In four of the team’s 13 losses this season the Badgers have either been trailing by one or leading at halftime, only to allow the second half and the game to escape through their clutches.
In their past three victories, however, Wisconsin has held on to any lead it has possessed on its way to closing out games. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the improvement the team has made to this point was seen in their game against Michigan this past Monday. Allowing the Wolverines to claw back from a 16-point hole and take the lead in the second half, the Badgers turned the ball over and started to self-destruct, as poor shot selection and a Michigan press spelled conundrums for Wisconsin.
But the Badgers and head coach Bobbie Kelsey would not let another game slip away, calling a timeout that resulted in sophomore guard Morgan Paige slicing down the lane for a layup in what was the defining moment of the game.
“When coach called the timeout she told us to stop settling for threes against their zone and look to attack,” Paige said. “We made the adjustment at the timeout to either attack the middle or look to pass it into one of our posts down low. I looked down the lane and saw a lot of space so I just took it strong.”
Offensively, the Badgers have been models of consistency during their three-game streak. Although Wisconsin has finally begun to cement the flow and chemistry of Kelsey’s offense, the first two months of the season were characterized by the Badgers struggling to find a single good look in a possession. In the Badgers’ 13 losses this season, the team has shot on average 36.1 percent from the floor. While the Badgers have shot an average of 46.8 percent during their recent streak, the team has looked more in sync than ever, as dribble penetration, solid post production and smart passes have given the Badgers high percentage shots throughout the court.
Another side effect for the Badgers in their offensive awakening has been the production of junior Taylor Wurtz. While Wurtz had led Wisconsin in scoring with an average close to 16 points per night, her teammates have recently helped shoulder some of the scoring load. Earlier in the season when the Badgers struggled from the field, it often looked like Wurtz was pressing for her shots, as the star guard was often the only Wisconsin player in a rhythm from the floor. In the Badgers’ 13 losses this season, Wurtz has shot on average 36.3 percent from the field, but in the Badgers’ recent streak, Wurtz has shot 47.1 percent from the floor, resulting from better looks, thanks to her teammates’ recent hot shooting.
During the first two months of the season the Badgers struggled to find looks early during a possession, often letting the clock wind down under eight seconds before hoisting up a contested look. After nearly three months of competition, the Badgers’ offense has a new feel of flow to it, as the team continues to run a quick transition offense that finds open looks earlier in the shot clock. With the average time per offensive position seemingly dropping every week, Kelsey’s fast paced system is finally yielding fruits in the form of wins for Wisconsin.
“It definitely was an emphasis by coach for us over winter break that we didn’t have class so we should be in the gym all the time working on offensive stuff,” Thomas said. “I think that definitely helped us getting in that extra work. But constantly going over offense in practice has helped us get that flow and be consistent. We know the plays work, but we don’t always execute them properly and get those good shots that come from executing properly.”
The Badgers’ recent success will be tested in the coming days, as the team faces three opponents ranked in the top 25 in their next five games, with every ranked matchup occurring away from the home floor of the Kohl Center.
“I think it’s great we’re still the underdog because we play like we have nothing to lose,” Thomas said. “Going into these next games with this streak of wins should give us that confidence to know we can play with anybody.”