If the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team eventually reaches its stated goal of making the NCAA tournament this season, many will look back at Monday’s 62-54 victory over No. 16 Michigan State as a turning point.
And it would be hard to argue against the significance of a convincing victory over a proven winner returning virtually its entire roster from an NCAA Sweet Sixteen team last year.
But in coach Lisa Stone’s mind, the game that serves as an indicator of big things ahead is one of the Badgers’ two losses so far. For Stone, it’s the 70-55 loss at Ohio State Dec. 6 that demonstrated to her that this year’s team is different from her first six at UW.
Not only did the Badgers show they could play with one of the nation’s elite teams — UW led 28-20 at halftime and still led midway through the second half — but they also showed they weren’t content with a well-played loss.
“After the game, different than in the past, it wasn’t like ‘We played pretty well but we lost,’ ’’ Stone said. “Our team was disappointed they lost the game. So there’s a different feeling in that locker room. This team is very hungry. Our expectation level is high, and that Ohio State game is what showed that to me.
“My job is to continue to get this team up and prepared for each game, not looking too far ahead, not looking backward, just staying on task.”
The next task for the Badgers (11-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is to win a road game tonight against a shorthanded Iowa team.
The Hawkeyes (7-6, 0-2) faced a big challenge in replacing their top three scorers from last season — point guard Kristi Smith, center Megan Skouby and sharpshooting forward Wendy Ausdemore.
But coach Lisa Bluder’s job has been made even more difficult by season-ending injuries suffered by three regulars. Senior center JoAnn Hamlin was lost before the season started when she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg and underwent surgery. Sophomore forward Hannah Draxton was declared out for the season this week because of a lingering back injury. And freshman guard Theairra Taylor — who was aggressively recruited by UW out of St. Paul (Minn.) Central — last week tore the ACL in her right knee.
“Obviously, this is a tough blow to our team,” said Bluder after Taylor’s injury. “We have faced so much adversity.”
On the plus side, junior Kachine Alexander — who demonstrated a rare combination of skills last year when she ranked second in the Big Ten in both rebounds and assists — has returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a leg injury.
“They’ve been strapped with some injuries,” Stone said. “But Iowa is a very high scoring offensive team and we need to stay focused.
“The Big Ten is where we have to make a statement. To get off to a good start was encouraging, but we’re not going to celebrate. We’re going to stay focused on the next game in hopes or reaching our goal of the NCAA tournament.”