Starting Wednesday, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (11-18, 3-15 Big Ten) will play with their season on the line as every game will be win or go home in the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers will begin this year’s Big Ten Championship against Illinois (11-18, 2-16).
The Badgers are in a similar position compared to last season’s campaign. Last year, Wisconsin finished 13th in the conference but surprised many at the tournament with two straight wins including a victory over 5th-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. Hopefully, the Badgers — currently seeded 12th after a disappointing stretch of conference losses — have a run in them similar to the year prior.
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The Badgers limp into the conference tournament losers of seven consecutive games — all of whom were conference opponents. It seems Wisconsin has run out of gas down the stretch as they have lost their last four games by double digits. Though Wisconsin has struggled, hopefully a week’s rest will help rejuvenate this depleted team.
Like Wisconsin, the Illini enter conference play struggling. Illinois has lost six consecutive games. Five of these losses were by double digits and their last win came against conference-worst Penn State. Last season, Illinois lost their opening conference tournament game 72-60 to Purdue.
A player to watch for Illinois will be redshirt junior guard Petra Holešínská. Holešínská enters play leading the Illini in scoring at 13.0 points per game and is deadly from behind the arc, ranking 3rd in the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 41.8%. Whenever Holešínská is on the floor, the Badgers must adjust their help-side defense and close-out with their hands up.
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Wisconsin will rely on the contributions of star forward Imani Lewis. Lewis enjoyed a stellar sophomore regular season campaign and was an integral part of the offense, averaging 14.3 points per game along with 8.6 rebounds per game.
Though Lewis has struggled of late — only scoring nine points on 3-11 shooting in Thursday’s season finale against Rutgers — she has consistently been one of the top performers in the Big Ten. Lewis was recently named to the All-Big Ten second team for her stellar offensive play. If Wisconsin wants to make a run, they will need to rely at least partially on Lewis’ play.
Wednesday afternoon will be the second meeting between the Badgers and the Illini, with the Badgers having won 73-64 in their Feb. 2 matchup in Champaign.
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If the Badgers move on, they will take on No. 5 seeded Rutgers for the second time in a week. Thursday’s matchup would be Wisconsin’s third meeting against the Scarlet Knights on the season.