After taking over during 2016-2017, University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s basketball Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis had a lot of work on his hands. After taking the George Washington women’s basketball team to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, it seemed Tsipis was the right candidate to turn the UW-Madison program around.
While the Badgers have struggled somewhat in Tsipis’ tenure, the team looks to be headed in the right direction. Following a 15-18 record during their 2018-2019 campaign — a six-win increase from the year before — the UW-Madison women’s basketball (2-1) team now has the tools for a breakout season.
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While the Badgers finished last season with a losing record, there were a lot of positive takeaways that could lay the foundation for a successful 2020 finish. The Badgers started last season blistering hot as they won their first six games. The team then hit a roadblock, losing two competitive non-conference games to Arkansas and Duke respectively.
After a trying midseason slump that saw the team finish 3-13 over their final 16 regular season games, the Badgers were able to come together in the Big Ten Tournament, winning a pair of games before ultimately falling in the quarterfinals to Michigan by a score of 73–65.
Also, another reason for optimism is that the Badgers returned six players who all saw major minutes last season.
Starting in the backcourt, UW-Madison welcomes back freshman guard Niya Beverley and senior guard Kendra Van Leeuwen. Both Beverley and Van Leeuwen bring experience to Wisconsin’s backcourt with at least 25 starts last season.
Beverley also brings an offensive punch, averaging 7.6 points per game last season. In last year’s quarterfinal loss against Michigan, Beverley played 49 minutes and managed to score an impressive 15 points. As a rising junior, Beverley will undoubtedly be looking to increase the role she plays for the Badgers’ offense.
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UW-Madison also complements their stellar backcourt with a proven frontcourt. Jupiter, Florida, native Abby Laszewski looks primed to have another solid season as a dedicated role-player for the Badgers. The senior appeared in 33 games off the bench, averaging 5.9 points per game.
The return of redshirt junior Courtney Fredrickson will also provide a much-needed boost for UW-Madison. After seeing significant minutes in her first two years, Fredrickson was lost early last year to a season-ending injury. Look for her to be a key contributor once healthy.
But most of all, Wisconsin will feed off of sophomore sensation and 2019 All-Big Ten Honorable mention, Imani Lewis. Entering as the 41st ranked player in the 2018 recruiting class, a lot was expected out of Lewis’ first season.
Yet she exceeded expectations and solidified herself as the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging just over 12 points per game. At 6-foot-1, Lewis was also a force on the boards as she averaged 7.6 rebounds per game with five double-doubles.
After the loss of leading scorer Marsha Howard, Lewis will be asked to lead the team as a sophomore. In her new role, Lewis could be in for a special season.
After three games, everything seems to be a bit of a mixed bag for the Badgers. Following an exhibition rout over University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the Badgers were tested in their first two home games against Wofford and North Florida. In both games Wisconsin looked sharp, winning both by a margin of 13 points.
Against Colorado, however, the Badgers hit a roadblock to their hot start. Colorado dominated the Badgers by a score of 57–74 in Boulder.
Even with a loss to Colorado, the Badgers still have a chance to get off to a hot start compared to their past endeavors. But this requires picking up right where they left off before Colorado, as even in their last season in which the Badgers went 15-18, they won their first six games of the season.
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Surprisingly, it has been senior guard Suzanne Gilreath who has headed the offensive attack in Wisconsin’s first three games. Gilreath is coming off one of her best games as a Badger, pouring in 21 points in Wisconsin’s win over Wofford —including five triples.
For UW-Madison to continue its success, Lewis must return to form. Lewis is only averaging 9.5 points per game on 33% shooting from the field.
With non-conference games against Georgia Tech and Arkansas looming, Wisconsin must gain momentum before those non-conference tests. With a lot of returning players and chemistry, the Badgers look to take the Big Ten by storm in 2019. In Tsipis’ fourth season, the time is now for this young team to take the next step as a contender in the Big Ten.