When the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team (4-12, 1-12 Big Ten) faced the then-No. 9 University of Maryland (13-2, 9-1) for the first time Jan. 17, the contest made it appear that maybe the Badgers could compete with the Big Ten’s best. Despite losing 79–70, Wisconsin consistently responded as Maryland tried to extend its lead, showing fight and determination that was absent when UW faced off against the conference’s other ranked teams.
When the two teams met for a rematch in College Park, one program demonstrated why they are perennially ranked in the AP Top 25 and why the other hasn’t been in the postseason for a decade. Wisconsin lost to No. 10 Maryland by 36 points, and even this seems like an inaccurate reflection of the Terrapins’ dominance.
Maryland offered no opportunities for the Badgers to develop any of those hopeful feelings that came out of the first matchup. From the tip, the Terrapins attacked quickly, hitting their first seven shots from the field while Wisconsin shot 29% and turned the ball over four times.
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This is the difference between programs on opposite ends of the basketball spectrum. Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese is one win away from sole possession of the school’s all-time win mark of 500 with her team in position to win the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s past two coaches don’t have 100 wins between the two of them over the past nine years and haven’t had a whiff of dancing in March.
There are individual nuggets of good that Wisconsin Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis can take from this game. Sydney Hilliard hit the 20-point mark for the first time in seven games. Julie Pospíšilovà had a career-high seven assists and maneuvered her way around double teams all afternoon long. But, so much of this season has been seemingly results-based rather than process-based.
There have been changes to defensive coverages, offensive strategies and substitution rotations — but there is no evidence of consistency. Part of this has been because of injuries and navigating a season through a global pandemic, but some are issues that stay strictly between the confines of a basketball court.
Every team in the conference knows by this point that pressing the Badgers will lead to turnovers, and today that number rounded out to 25. Against Rutgers, Northwestern, Minnesota and even Illinois, the Badgers have turned the ball over 20-plus times with minimal adjustment.
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Similarly, there seems to be a lot of indecision regarding whether or not the identity of this team is to bang and bruise down low or to run small ball sets with one traditional big. The stylistic inconsistency isn’t a result of positionless basketball — the type of modern strategy that Maryland deploys with stars like Diamond Miller, Ashley Owusu and Chloe Bibby. It’s a result of not being sure what works to win games.
One day the team may go with lineups featuring two or three frontcourt players while Tsipis may opt for small ball. But the bottom line remains that these decisions aren’t made in the name of building a specific brand of basketball, but rather trying to drive in results. This is understandable given the roster turnover and age of the team, but nonetheless, to be 16 games into the season without a clearly discernible identity is worrying.
After coming off of a dominant win against Illinois, the Badgers seemed to have slipped into a spell of sloppy play. Wisconsin’s next chance to right the wrong will come against Penn State Feb. 7. This is one of those games where you burn the game tape and move on.