The Wisconsin women’s basketball team is in the midst of its toughest stretch of games this season.
Wisconsin (10-15, 3-10 Big Ten) is in the second game of a three-game stretch that includes three ranked teams and teams seeded first, second and fourth in the Big Ten standings. Following a 78-68 loss at Penn State this past Sunday, the Badgers will welcome No. 25 Michigan State (17-8, 9-3 Big Ten) to the Kohl Center Thursday before heading to Purdue to take on the 23rd-ranked Boilermakers this Sunday.
The Badgers’ opponent Thursday, Michigan State, is currently in a tie for second in the Big Ten — one game behind first-place Penn State. Wisconsin played one of its best games of the season this past Sunday against No. 11 Penn State holding a lead late in the second half before falling. It was a game that senior point guard Morgan Paige, who will be playing in her 100th-straight game Thursday, views as a confidence booster for UW. Having lost many close games to upper-echelon Big Ten opponents this season, Paige and the rest of the Badgers are looking to get over the hump and into the win column against the top teams.
“Especially in the Big Ten this year, competition has been really, really tough,” Paige said. “Every team is good. Playing in [the Penn State game], you know you can compete with anyone in the conference. We’ve been competing and we’re so close. We just have to find a way to get over that edge and get a W.”
Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey said the team is close to winning some of these big games and has given itself opportunities to win. However, it will take an all-around strong performance by her team – both offensively and defensively – to emerge victorious.
“You’ve got to give yourself an opportunity,” Kelsey said. “When you’re that close—if I just box out, if I just make a free throw, if I just play a little better defense on that possession—throughout the course of the game, then you know you can knock somebody off. So I’m still believing.”
The Badgers will face one of the better inside-out combinations in the Big Ten Thursday with Michigan State’s Annalise Pickrel and Aerial Powers. Powers, a 6-foot guard, is first on the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Pickrel, a 6-foot-3 forward, is second in both categories, averaging 12.7 and 7.2 respectively. Paige and Wisconsin will try to prevent the Spartans from scoring in the paint and rebounding the basketball. Michigan State is second in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding.
“With Michigan State in particular, rebounding and keeping its points in the paint to a minimum will be huge for us,” Paige said. “That will help us tremendously. If we can lock down the points in the paint and rebound the basketball, we’ll be in good shape. And just taking that into the last couple of regular season games and hopefully make a nice little run in the Big Ten tournament.”
A nice little run in the Big Ten tournament is exactly what the Badgers are hoping for once regular season play comes to a close. Currently second to last in the Big Ten standings, the Badgers will face an uphill battle in the tournament, but a few wins against top-tier opponents at the end of the season will bode well for them.
“Every win is a big win for us, but when you’re playing against the top of the league, you want to have that statement, signature game that you can build upon,” Kelsey said. “It’s exciting for us to be able to go in. The pressure’s not really on us, so to speak. It’s on the team that’s ranked or has all these accolades and different things.”
Sophomore point guard Nicole Bauman is coming off a career performance this past Sunday against Penn State and knows a strong finish to the regular season will bring some much needed confidence to the Badgers. Bauman scored a career-high 17 points Sunday, including a 5-for-8 mark from beyond the arc.
“It would bring a lot of confidence,” she said. “That’s something that would really be a good thing. I mean, we haven’t really had a lot of wins this season. So going into the Big Ten tournament with another win or two would definitely be a confidence booster.”