The University of Wisconsin women’s basketball season just keeps trucking along. Less than two days after a tough, physical home loss to Rutgers, the University of North Dakota came rolling into the Kohl Center as a result of another rescheduling in college basketball’s COVID-19 season.

The Badgers got back to winning ways against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks behind 18 points and six assists for sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard. Sophomore center Sara Stapleton added a career high 16 points while contributing nine rebounds in the win.

Junior forward Imani Lewis added a near double-double of her own with 10 points and nine rebounds as Julie Pospíšilovà got back to her composed stature, scoring 12 points and dishing out four dimes with only one turnover to her name. Tara Stauffacher was hot from deep, hitting three of her five attempts from three-point range.

After two tooth and nail battles against Big Ten heavyweights, Wisconsin found space and dominated against North Dakota. The Badgers never once trailed in the game and won every statistical category, sans fastbreak points. Though Wisconsin only dressed nine players, they all played, and seven played 20 minutes or more.

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North Dakota went punch-for-punch with Wisconsin in the first frame, facing only a two-point deficit going into the second quarter. But this was as close as the Hawks got on Sunday afternoon. The Badgers went on an 8-0 run to start the second and a 6-0 run to close it out and secure an 11 point lead going into the half. 

Wisconsin’s first half momentum carried into the second. Another big run in the third — a 14-5 spurt over the course of five minutes — put the game out of reach. 

This is a sign of early growth for the Badgers. Against Western Illinois University in the first game of the season, Wisconsin let a double-digit half time lead dwindle to as little as three points before scrapping to a seven-point win.

“We were up the exact same score in the first game here,” Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “I just said we can’t give them confidence coming out of the locker room. We can’t give them open shots, we can’t give them an offensive rebound-putback … I thought the unselfishness was really, really important. People gave up good shots for great shots.”

Among those taking great shots was Hilliard. Though her 20-point streak came to an end, the sophomore guard was as aggressive and efficient as she has been this season, shooting 61.5% in Sunday’s contest. Crazy enough, this mark is actually a hair lower than her season mark. Through four games, Hilliard has shot 62.1% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc.

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“I always try to be as efficient as I can,” Hilliard said, who leads the team in scoring with 22.5 points per game. “I think just getting as many reps I can from each spot that I’ve been practicing is really helpful.”

Among the most consistent themes through the season’s early stages has been the Badgers’ commitment to rebounding, averaging 46.75 a game, second among Big Ten teams. Eight Badgers average over three rebounds a game and four average six or more. Lewis leads the way with 9.3 a game while Stapleton adds nearly seven.

Stapleton has been one of the keys to the season so far. When she’s able to get going and immediately contribute, the team has performed well. When her production is limited due to the pace of the game or the opposing defensive strategy, the Badgers look unsteady. 

“Our guards were making a lot of shots from the outside, that definitely helps open up the inside for me to be able to score,” Stapleton said about her career night. “They were making great passes to get me good angles to get easy points.”

Both Badgers wins this season have come against non-conference opponents, and they have two more scheduled games against non-Big Ten teams before conference play begins — two home games against Valparaiso Dec. 20 and Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 22. 

The Badgers may even schedule one more game before then per UW-athletics. But regardless, the consensus around the program is that they must use these games to improve the chemistry on one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten.

“We’re still kind of getting the swing of things,” Hilliard said. “Once our teammates come back that have been gone for a little bit we’ll be able to build that chemistry and be ready for these two games.”