Women’s Basketball: Wisconsin’s hot start, early success

Moseley, Badgers riddle off early wins, usher new wave of optimism

· Dec 7, 2023 Tweet

Krissy Birdsall/The Badger Herald

There is plenty of merit behind the argument that Wisconsin women’s basketball was destined for another season of failure.

From a macro perspective, the team’s last winning season came in the 2010-11 season when former President Barack Obama was in the midst of his first term, and the players on the current team were in elementary school. The last time fans could flock to the Kohl Center and watch a Wisconsin team finish the year ranked in the AP Poll was in 2001 when the Kohl Center itself was three years old.

A micro perspective would yield an identical, if not stronger, impression that the 2023-24 iteration of Wisconsin women’s basketball was doomed to repeat its pattern of maladroitness. Last season was the second under head coach Marisa Moseley and purely from a record perspective, it was more of the same. Wisconsin finished 6-12 in the Big Ten and 11-20 overall in a season that involved multiple 30-point-losses to rival Iowa.

Furthermore, three of the top four scorers from the 2022-23 team departed for various reasons. Julie Pospisilova, who ranks top 10 all-time in career Wisconsin scoring, graduated to play professionally in Spain. Avery LaBarbera’s excellent shooting, underrated ball-handling and elite basketball IQ was lost when the senior graduated and took a coaching position at Boston College.

Perhaps most devastatingly, freshman Maty Wilke announced she was transferring to Utah following the season. Moseley had in the past described Wilke as a “cornerstone” piece and for good reason. The freshman showed immediate results in the short-term by being the third-leading scorer while showing flashes that loudly screamed deadly two-way potential.

With a tattered road of subpar results in the rearview mirror and a front windscreen clouded by missed opportunity, it was easy to believe the remnants of the Wisconsin bandwagon were driving directly to their own demise.

But to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the Wisconsin women’s basketball program’s death were greatly exaggerated.

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The leading scorers from last year’s squad may not have carried over to the current team, but the momentum they injected did. The 2022-23 women’s basketball team quietly won four of their last five conference games which included a 88–62 dismantling of Rutgers and a stunning yet thorough victory over No. 12 ranked Michigan. Last season’s quiet surge has correlated to loud results this season.

Somehow, almost inexplicably, the Wisconsin team that collected 11 wins and lost three of their best players entered their next season by playing their best collective basketball in years. The 4-2 record by itself is impressive, but that alone does not capture the level of play that Wisconsin has reached.

It is easy for a program to disguise their shortcomings by piling up early-season wins through playing uncompetitive opponents. Wisconsin demonstrated this in 2018 when an 8-3 start cascaded into a 4-16 finish. This Badger team is different. Through six games, Wisconsin’s strength of schedule ranks in the upper 12th percentile of college basketball.

Western Illinois is 5-1 with each of their five wins being by at least 20 points. Their lone loss is a 52–74 defeat at the Kohl Center that saw Wisconsin hold the Leathernecks to 28.3% shooting from the floor.

South Dakota State finished last season with 29 wins, a Summit League Championship and a March Madness victory over USC. Their two losses this season were served compliments of No.1 ranked juggernaut South Carolina and Wisconsin who beat the Jackrabbits thanks to a Brooke Schramek game-winning bucket with under a second left.

Even Wisconsin’s most recent victory came against Boston College, who finished last season with five more wins than Wisconsin and beat then top-10 ranked NC State. Poking holes in the Badgers’ early wins involves admitting that the bar of expectations needs to be raised.

Despite the success, the Badgers have not played close to perfect basketball. Wisconsin’s 3-0 start was brutally snapped during a 57–75 defeat at Kansas State where the score was 37–60 going into the fourth quarter. The Badgers also squandered a seven-point halftime lead to Arkansas and ultimately lost a one-possession game to a Razorback team now sitting at 6-1.

On the individual side, there are still causes for concern. Standout sophomore Serah Williams’ impressive defense and team-high 14.2 PPG has been slightly undercut by her 4.3 turnovers per game. Brilliant playmaker Ronnie Porter’s 4.7 3-point attempts per game have resulted in a subpar .250 shooting percentage behind the arc. Brooke Schramek’s .375 3-point-percentage is contrasted by .563 free throw percentage.

But these nitpicks are not reasons to expect decline. In fact, they signal the opposite. The problems that plague this Wisconsin team are the best kinds of problems to have — fixable ones. A roster where 11 of the 14 players are underclassmen is expected to be inconsistent, especially when four of those underclassmen are in the starting lineup.

The highs of an inconsistent team are usually seen in singular plays or brief stretches of success within portions of a game. This Wisconsin team is doing more than putting together good stretches against good teams. Instead, they are beating these teams outright through an exciting brand of stingy defense and timely shooting.

The Badgers women’s basketball team has plenty of games left to play and there will undoubtedly be a plethora of ups and downs in the months ahead. Growing a consistent winning culture takes a mixture of impressive coaching and talented players. That does not change the fact that this Wisconsin team has all the ingredients to cultivate that winning program.

Between a strong fanbase, a promising young core, an established head coach, an exciting start to the season and the potential to drastically improve during the course of the year, there is plenty of merit behind the argument that Wisconsin women’s basketball is destined for future seasons of success.

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This article was published Dec 7, 2023 at 5:00 pm and last updated Dec 3, 2023 at 11:30 am

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