It has been a grueling nonconference schedule this season for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. Big-name schools like Alabama, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Marquette and Gonzaga have occupied the schedule for the Badgers in the early months of the 2013-2014 season. Following a 70-55 loss to No. 24 Gonzaga on Tuesday, the Badgers (6-3) will continue their tough schedule as they head west to face the Washington Huskies (2-3) on Friday.
Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey is hoping this tough schedule will prepare her players for what they can expect to see in both Big Ten play and possibly the NCAA tournament at the end of the season. With key players returning from injuries this season, the Badgers are gearing up for an NCAA run despite the team having little experience in post-season play.
“Those games help you if we want to go where we want to go, which is to the NCAA tournament,” Kelsey said. “We need to make sure we’re preparing ourselves all the time to experience what that would be like. The majority of our program has not experienced the NCAA tournament, so we want to make sure we’re preparing ourselves for those kinds of games. And these [nonconference games] have challenged us in many ways.”
Friday’s game against Washington will be the fourth-straight game against either a ranked team or a team from a power six conference for the Badgers. Washington isn’t quite as battle tested as Wisconsin — having played only five games this season. Its two wins came against Seattle and Houston, while its three losses came against St. Mary’s (Cali.), Portland and No. 23, Texas A&M.
Despite their 2-3 overall record, the Huskies have one of the best backcourts in the Pac-12 with guards Jazmine Davis and Kelsey Plum. Davis, a junior, was Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012 and has been named to the All-Pac-12 First Team in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. She is also Washington’s all-time leading scorer through two seasons and holds the Husky record for points as a freshman (535). Plum is a freshman this season, but was an All-American in high school and helped guide USA’s U-19 team to a gold medal at the U-19 World Championships in 2013. Davis and Plum are averaging 19 and 18 points per game respectively this season for the Huskies. Six-foot-two forward Talia Walton has also had a good start to the season, averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for Washington.
Although Washington boasts a pair of quality guards, the Badgers certainly have their own trio of quality guards in Dakota Whyte, Morgan Paige, and Taylor Wurtz. Paige is coming off of a 19 point performance on Tuesday where she was 11-for-14 from the free-throw line. She is just five points away from joining Wurtz as a member of the 1,000 point club. Wurtz and Paige are first and third on the team in scoring, averaging 15 and 13.1 points per game this season. Whyte leads the team is assists with 26.
A big advantage for the Badgers on Friday could come from the three-point line. Washington ranks last in the Pac-12, allowing 47 percent from three-point range, which bodes well for a Badger team that has made 23 more three-pointers than its opponents this season owning a 58-35 advantage. Friday’s game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Badgers after they were just 5-for-22 on Tuesday night from beyond the arc. Wisconsin will look to get their stroke back from downtown and Kelsey wants to see the offense improve in general during its last three nonconference games. After Washington, the Badgers will play Illinois-Chicago and Green Bay before opening up Big Ten play against Illinois on Jan. 3.
“We need to execute our offense better,” Kelsey said. “I think we start just panicking when it breaks down, when we don’t get all the way through it. Everybody’s got to know it, in, out, backwards, forwards, every which way.
“Sometimes we look like we’re running around when we’re just trying to get in our spots. But we have to look at it as coaches; we’ve got to make sure we’re putting them in things they can actually run.”
It will be the fifth meeting all-time between Washington and Wisconsin with the Huskies owning a 3-1 overall record. The Badgers and Huskies met last season in Madison with Washington, winning 60-55, and were led by none other than Jazmine Davis who scored 22 points.