Junior guard Morgan Paige has seen her team struggle to close out games throughout the season. The Badgers have held leads in 14 of their 20 games played this year and have seen many of them slip away due to multiple issues, including poor rebounding and defense.[/media-credit]

The rock ‘n’ roll band Queen was formed 42 years ago, and although it is well past its prime, perhaps its members should consider going on tour again – if Freddie Mercury was brought back to life – because they are certainly needed in Madison. That’s because the Wisconsin women’s basketball team has done covers of some of the band’s greatest hits so far this season, but unfortunately not We Are the Champions, as it has struggled late in games leading to its current 9-11 record.

I Want to Break Free

If there was one glaring problem to be pointed at for the crunch-time breakdowns head coach Bobbie Kelsey would undoubtedly admit it, but it has not been just one problem that has cost the Badgers victories. There has been an abundance of turnovers in some games, while in others the problem is simply a lack of points. Just when those issues seem to be brought under control a different shortcoming, rebounding or lack thereof, has cost Wisconsin games.

It was frustrating enough for co-captain Morgan Paige and her teammates to endure a six-game losing streak, but more frustrating was losing in close games, with a different problem costing them each time.

“In our close games I feel like each and every one of them has something else that we did wrong, so it’s not the same thing that’s killing us,” Paige said. “That’s the most frustrating thing about it. One game it’s defensive assignments, one game it’s offensive rebounding, one game it’s turnovers, so if we can just get all of these things that we’re trying to do right, right all the time, we’d be in good shape. We’re just having these little slip-ups in the end, and they’re costing us games.” 

Under Pressure

It’s not as if Wisconsin has performed poorly by any means, considering the Badgers have played toe-to-toe with every team but two so far, and has held halftime leads in 14 of their 20 games. Instead it has been costly play in the second half, most of the time only for a few minutes, that has cost the Badgers wins. Two games that come to mind are the losses to Iowa, one by nine points and the other by 11. What appeared to be comfortable Hawkeye wins were in fact close games that were lost due to 14-0 and 18-5 runs respectively by Iowa in the late minutes.

Assistant coach Alysiah Bond explained her team’s late-game losses as simply been outperformed during that time.

“The difference for us is not making winning plays down the stretch,” Bond said. “What we face is because a lot of teams are more talented or deeper than us, we have to pay special attention to detail. And when we don’t do that we let some teams get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, and they do what they do best. That’s where we’ve hit a wall, and the understanding of simply knowing the scout, following through with action, so we can complete the mission, which is to win some of these games.”

Another One Bites the Dust

One of the biggest stories to outsiders about the program would be Wisconsin’s emaciated roster, which now only lists nine players for the rest of the season. The two early season transfers and more importantly the losses of AnnMarie Brown and captain Taylor Wurtz have been evident, especially lacking what Bond calls a “work ethic” leader they had in Wurtz. The Badgers have dearly missed that absence of leadership, as well as scoring from Wurtz late in games, and has relied almost exclusively on Paige for scoring.

Still, even with an extremely short bench and lack of experience, the players and coaches are not looking for excuses, or a scapegoat for their late-game woes.

“Bobbie has a saying, ‘we don’t have a lot but we have enough,’ and we believe that,” Bond said. “We’re not waiting for someone to come in a superwoman cape, and rescue us. We don’t need to be rescued. We just have to pay attention to the small things that can make a difference in winning a game and having a smile on your face after the game, or shaking your head saying, ‘goodness we let that one slip away,’ and that’s how we felt several times, but that’s been something that we control.” 

Play the Game

Although the crunch-time struggles and close losses are less than ideal for the Badgers, the unique circumstances they have encountered thus far this season have certainly tested the mentality of the players and coaches. And with the walls of adversity Wisconsin has found itself up against, it can only be a matter of time before the team finally breaks through.

“Every game we have something that’s so big of an obstacle that can we overcome it? We don’t know until the game’s over,” Kelsey said.

And perhaps the Badgers wanted to get the other songs out of the way first and save the best song for last: “We Are the Champions.”