For the first time in Big Ten play this season, the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (4-11, 1-11 Big Ten) finished on top. Behind 22 points and 16 rebounds from junior Imani Lewis, the Badgers ended a 17-game conference losing streak stretching back to last season, taking down Illinois (2-10, 0-9), 69–57.
All the emotions built up from the losing skid — disappointment and frustration, among them — were let loose in the Kohl Center. Once the Badgers took an 18–17 lead to start the second quarter, they never looked back. In fact, the entire second quarter, the Badgers only allowed one field goal and five points in total, using staunch interior defense and strong rebounding to fuel an aggressive, downhill attack.
The Badgers won this game by combining the physicality they demonstrated during their non-conference games with the energy of their bench, which has become such an important tool in the development of the team’s identity.
“I try to explain to [our team], ‘I know you want to win,” Lewis said in the postgame press conference. “But we need to figure out how we want to win.’”
From the jump, Lewis, Sydney Hilliard and Julie Pospíšilovà commanded the lion’s share of the offensive responsibility. But the Badgers needed other contributors to perform well in order to win. Estella Moschkau has been the resident sharpshooter, while freshmen Brooke Schramek and Halle Douglass have climbed up the depth chart and established themselves as necessary contributors.
“At the end of the first half, having multiple people with two fouls, that just gives someone else an opportunity,” Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “And I think Halle and Tara and Brooke did a great job of taking advantage of that opportunity.”
The team’s next goal is to take the blueprint for beating Illinois — a Big Ten bottomfeeder — and applying it to the rest of conference play. A big piece of that is the aforementioned Douglass.
“[Douglass] is a very good passer and rebounder,” Hilliard, who contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists, said. “She does a lot of little things for us that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.”
With Pospíšilovà in foul trouble, Douglass got an extended run of minutes and flourished. She gives the Badgers a tertiary ball handler — and with this the ability to run more effective small ball lineups — while consistently making great decisions in transition. While Douglass only notched three dimes in the box score, her ability to break down a defense with her passing was a big part of why the Badgers finished with 16 assists.
More so than any individual player can account for, it’s the little things that need to translate from game to game. The Badgers outrebounded Illinois 50–40 and dominated the paint on both ends. This is a result of the guards consistently looking to attack the rim and bigs — especially Lewis and Sara Stapleton — leveraging their physicality down low. To build off of this win, the Badgers must establish themselves as a threat around the rim on both ends.
Giveaways have been a parasite for the Badgers all season long, adding 20 more against Illinois. Though it didn’t hurt them this time around, against more valiant opposition carelessness with the ball will result in more losses.
Learning how to win in the Big Ten was never going to be easy for a team as young as the Badgers.
“We’re all collectively helping each other,” said Lewis. “And that’s what I like to see.”