After having their scheduled opener against Miami University canceled due to COVID-19 cases on the Miami of Ohio squad, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (1-0) kicked off their season with a 73-66 win over the Western Illinois Leathernecks (0-1) Sunday. The win moves the program to 18-4 all-time in home openers.

Sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard led the way with a career-high 24 points, followed by junior forward Imani Lewis’ 13 and sophomore big Sarah Stapleton’s double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds. Stanford graduate transfer and Madison native Estella Moschkau totaled seven points, five rebounds and three assists in her first appearance for Wisconsin.

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With a shortened preseason and a delayed schedule release — on top of being one of the youngest teams in college basketball — Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis’ squad showed clear signs of rust in the opener. Lewis, who sported a surgical mask during the game as a precaution for her pre-existing medical condition amid the COVID pandemic, was limited to seven points on 2-for-11 shooting entering the fourth quarter.

A series of point-blank misses in the third quarter allowed Western Illinois to mount an impressive comeback, getting to within three points of tying the game after the Badgers led by 11 at the half.

The fourth quarter was all Wisconsin. Lewis, a 2019 All-Big Ten Second Team selection, found her professional-level touch around the rim, adding six points in the final quarter alone.

Moschkau controlled the tempo by masterfully using quick outlet passes off of defensive rebounds to secure easy points for the Badgers. On the receiving ends of those passes was Hilliard, who capped off her career night with a late jumper to give the Badgers a nine-point lead with 1:32 to go in the game. But it was redshirt junior Alex Luehring who hit the 3-point dagger to secure the win for the home team.

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Though Wisconsin added seven new faces to the program five freshmen and two transfers only two saw significant minutes. Freshman wing Brooke Schramek played a valuable 12 minutes, though her box score numbers — two points on 1-for-5 shooting and four fouls may not show how important her vision in the open court was instrumental in building Wisconsin’s 11-point first-half lead.

Moschkau, who spent the first four seasons of her college career as a scout team member on Hall of Fame Coach Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford squad, played 28 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, in her UW debut.

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Though Western Illinois may not be competing on the same level as the uber-competitive Big Ten, there are still valuable takeaways for Tsipis.

  • What stuck out like a sore thumb in this game was the amount of close range misses for the Badgers. On the bright side, this means the offense was able to create high-quality opportunities, but to compete in what is considered to be the deepest conference in the women’s game, Wisconsin especially Lewis and forward Julie Pospíšilovà will need to do a better job of converting on these chances.
  • The Badgers created 27 turnovers but only scored 15 points off of them. Despite the quick passing from Moschkau and Schramek, capitalizing on the disruptive defense created by UW’s length on the wing and on the interior needs to be a point of emphasis going forward.
  • Hilliard is legit. Many of the questions of whether or not this team could break the glass ceiling and reach postseason play rely on the ability of Hilliard to create for herself and others. After a virtuosic first half where Hilliard scored from every angle and dished out four dimes, Tsipis’ offense looks safe in Hilliard’s hands. Utilizing Hilliard in pick-and-rolls with Lewis and Pospíšilovà should and will be part of the Badgers’ daily diet.

The Badgers’ next game will be Saturday, Dec. 5 against Iowa to kick off their Big Ten Conference schedule.