To say that the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (10-10, 2-7 Big Ten) has gotten off to a rocky start in the 2019-20 season would be an understatement.
The Badgers are currently ranked 11th in the Big Ten conference, following a one-point loss to the University of Nebraska (15-5, 5-4) in late January. The unit lost the contest in particularly heartbreaking fashion, watching their double-digit lead dwindle in the second half before Nebraska took over in the final minutes.
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This loss, which significantly lowers the Badgers’ chances of making the postseason, came off an inspiring 72–62 road win against rival Minnesota in Minneapolis on Jan. 22. Wisconsin failed to capture the momentum that this rare in-conference win provided and translate it into successful, season-ending play, leaving players and fans alike wondering — where can the team go from here?
The simplest answer the Badgers and Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis can find to this puzzling question is to lean on the players that propelled the Badgers to a 5-1 start at the beginning of the year.
During this month-long stretch of games, forward Imani Lewis was influential in the team’s success. The sophomore from Willingboro, New Jersey was able to rack up at least seven points per game amid the team’s fiery start, with her most impressive performance coming at Colorado where she scored 19 points and brought in seven rebounds en route to a 70–41 victory.
On the season, Lewis has played in all 20 games while starting in 19 — scoring double digits in 18 games and leading the team with an average 15.5 points per game. The breakout star has recorded nine double-doubles as well as scoring a career-high 23 points against Penn State and 16 rebounds at Minnesota. The Life Center Academy graduate is currently on a ten-game double-digit scoring streak and is tied for 10th in school history with 14 career double-doubles.
On top of Lewis, senior forward Abby Laszewski has been key in the Badgers’ contests this season, scoring a season-high 20 points against Rutgers and recording a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds against Arkansas. The Jupiter, Florida native is currently averaging 11.3 points per game on the season, and her career block total of 110 puts her at sixth all-time in UW history.
When asked about where he thinks the team can improve in their offensive game plan for the rest of the season, Tsipis had some hopeful criticism for his squad during a press conference on Jan. 27.
“You look on both sides of the ball, I think on the offensive side we are much better when the ball is changing sides of the floor and players are getting a lot of touches,” Tsipis said. “In our three most recent games the ball may have been stuck a little bit, and we tried to do things on only one side of the floor.”
This lack of ball movement can be attributed to opponents’ increased awareness of Lewis as a scoring threat, as she often gets double-teamed, making it difficult for her to have a significant impact on the game when it matters most. Tsipis acknowledged this fact, accrediting the sophomore for her willingness to recognize her impact on opposing teams’ game plans and accepting that she needs to get other players more involved on the offensive side of the court.
When asked about the defensive side of the floor, Tsipis preached consistency and fundamentals.
“Defensively, in all three of those games coming up with key stops and rebounds helped us immensely,” Tsipis said during the press conference. “That was the difference in the Minnesota game, even with missing some of those shots we got in the lane, we got to the free-throw line, and we took advantage of that. We haven’t been able to do that these past three games, we haven’t put the pressure on the other team.”
The Badgers still have nine more games to play in the regular season, but one can’t help but feel that the team’s morale and postseason hopes are dwindling by the day. During the stretch run, the Badgers will battle three top 25 opponents in back-to-back-to-back games, with contests against No. 18 Iowa Feb. 16, No. 17 Maryland Feb. 19 and No. 23 Northwestern Feb. 22.
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While the outlook on the remainder of the regular season may look grim, Tsipis relayed the confidence that he has in his squad and highlighted the improvements that they have made throughout the year.
“You can sit and put your head down and pout about it or you can get ready,” Tsipis said during the press conference. “I think our team has improved over the last two weeks, and seeing how we played at Nebraska, against Iowa, against Minnesota, we got to be able to take those positives and move forward.”
Perseverance is key, as the next few games will certainly decide the fate for the Badgers and their season.
Wisconsin will battle Minnesota in a rivalry matchup Thursday, Feb. 6, when they seek to sweep the season series against the Gophers for the first time since the 2010-11 season.