There was a lot of optimism surrounding the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (11-18, 3-15 Big Ten) entering the 2019-20 season, but a mixture of blowing late-game leads, defensive struggles and battling a grueling conference schedule has allowed the 2019-20 season to become another rebuilding year for the Badgers.
After a strong finish to the 2018-19 season in which Wisconsin won two games in the Big Ten Tournament and almost knocked down the NCAA tournament bound Michigan, fans believed Wisconsin had a chance to turn the corner. They outperformed their seed in the Big Ten and showed potential to compete with the best of the best.
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With all four scoring leaders returning including rising star Imani Lewis, the Badgers appeared to have a strong nucleus of players who could help the team return to their first postseason appearance since the 2010-11 season.
Initially, things clicked early for Wisconsin. Before the start of Big Ten play, the Badgers stood an impressive 8-3 and competed well against top competition. In November’s Bahamas Hoopfest, Wisconsin took a 22-win Arkansas team to the wire, only losing by four to the Razorbacks, who will likely head to the NCAA tournament.
Though any loss isn’t satisfying, it appeared the Badgers could compete with the Big Ten’s best.
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While Wisconsin proved the ability to compete with tournament teams, the depth of the Big Ten tests teams night in and night out. With eight teams projected to make the NCAA tournament field, the most out of any conference in the country, Wisconsin struggled to combat against the Big Ten’s grueling schedule.
Throughout the season, Wisconsin has struggled immensely in conference play. The Badgers are 12th in the Big Ten with a dismal 3-15 record. The Badgers have lost seven consecutive conference games and are 2-13 in their last 15 conference games.
The last six of Wisconsin’s games have been against NCAA tournament projected teams. Wisconsin’s matchups were against anything but marginal tournament teams, as these Big Ten teams are legitimate tournament contenders. Also, Wisconsin’s previous three opponents have been ranked in the top 20 with Maryland at No. 6, Northwestern at No. 11 and Iowa at No. 19.
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This slate of games is challenging for any team, especially one struggling in conference play. Though Wisconsin lost all three games by double digits, they have also shown the inability to finish games in crunch time against quality teams.
In a two week January stretch, Wisconsin squandered chances for upsets against ranked opponents Iowa and Indiana. First, in a home game against the Hawkeyes, the Badgers dominated the first half, taking a 15 point halftime lead into the intermission. The Badgers were clicking on all cylinders, shooting a solid 21 of 34 from the field. With a 50–35 lead, it appeared Wisconsin was primed for a momentum-building upset.
In the second half, the Hawkeyes took control, outscoring the Badgers by an astounding 22 points en route to an 85–78 win. Iowa shot a 11-15 from the field in the third quarter and the Badgers could never seem to get a stop. This game was a missed opportunity for Wisconsin for a signature win on their home floor.
Another Wisconsin meltdown came in the Jan. 30 road loss to No. 20 Indiana. Traveling to raucous Assembly Hall, the Badgers were composed early, taking a commanding 33–21 lead into the break. Freshman guard Sydney Hilliard was enjoying her best game, finishing with 23 points on 10 of 14 shooting.
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Hilliard’s tremendous play was not enough as the Hoosiers used a 23–13 fourth-quarter advantage to force overtime. Indiana dominated the extra frame, eventually winning the game 75–65. Like Iowa, Wisconsin yet again squandered a golden opportunity to gather momentum and collect a signature win. The inability to finish during crunch time is one reason for the Badger’s disappointing season.
The final reason for the Badger’s struggles this season has been their inconsistency on both the offensive and defensive ends as a team. On the offensive end, Wisconsin has struggled to string together proficient scoring numbers as the team ranks 12th in the Big Ten in scoring average, scoring 64.7 points per game.
Conversely, the Badgers have struggled to prevent opposing teams from easy jump shots and baskets. Again, Wisconsin ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up 67.5 points per game — the fifth worst in the Big Ten.
In a season that was once filled with a young core and hopes of a postseason appearance, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team has not lived up to expectations during the 2019-20 campaign. With struggles both offensively, defensively and in crunch time, Wisconsin barred themselves from finally becoming highly competitive within the Big Ten.