Early on in his first season as University of Wisconsin women’s basketball coach, Jonathan Tsipis would say he frequently felt like he had a team of 15 freshmen.
But as he prepares for Year 2, Tsipis sees an experienced group that has a better understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish.
Tsipis has seen that difference throughout summer workouts and preseason practices and now he’s looking for that to be evident when the Badgers begin competition, starting Wednesday night when they face UW-Platteville in an exhibition game at the Kohl Center.
“I don’t feel like I have 15 freshmen like I did a lot of times last year,” Tsipis said. “We were able to start this process as soon as the Big Ten tournament was over last year.
“We’re further ahead because drills aren’t all new and expectations aren’t just given out by the coaching staff. We have upperclassmen who are able to hold their teammates accountable.”
The Badgers have four returning starters from last year’s team, which finished 9-22 overall and 3-13 in the Big Ten Conference. But Tsipis is hoping to build on an encouraging finish in which the Badgers won three of their last five games, including a Big Ten tournament triumph over Rutgers.
The returning starters include senior Cayla McMorris, the leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, junior Marsha Howard and sophomores Kendra Van Leeuwen and Courtney Fredrickson.
Other returning veterans include redshirt senior Kendall Shaw, redshirt junior Roichelle Marble and sophomores Suzanne Gilreath and Abby Laszewski.
The only scholarship player added to the mix is freshman guard Niya Beverley, who Tsipis expects to provide much-needed quickness and aggressiveness to the backcourt. That’s an element that was missing last season.
“Niya Beverley can get up on the ball defensively,” Tsipis said. “Any good defensive team usually is strong right up the middle with an anchor post player and somebody who can pressure the ball and slow down people in transition. That’s something I saw in her when I first got to see her play as a freshman in high school in the Washington area.”
Tsipis started last season playing an aggressive man-to-man defense but quickly realized it didn’t suit his personnel and switched to a zone for much of the season. But he started using more man-to-man late in the season and the team responded well down the stretch.
“We’re not going to be a team that is going to overextend and try to shoot the passing lanes,” said Tsipis, who talked defensive principles with UW men’s coach Greg Gard frequently during the summer. “But I think we can be better than we were last year defensively.”
After using two post players much of last season, Tsipis will have to play a smaller lineup much of the time with the loss of starting post Avyanna Young through graduation and redshirt senior Malayna Johnson with her second torn ACL, which likely will end her playing career.
Howard figures to be the starter down low at 5-10, with Laszewski and Shaw also seeing plenty of action.
McMorris will be a constant on the perimeter and Tsipis is expecting a big final season from her.
“She’s had a great sense of urgency since the start of the summer to lead us and I think part of that is knowing this is her last opportunity as a collegian,” Tsipis said. “Hopefully, we can spread the floor a little bit more, work with different types of post players.”
He is counting on McMorris and Fredrickson to contribute on the boards, with Van Leeuwen, Beverley, Marble and Gilreath competing for time on the perimeter.
The Badgers will open regular season play Sunday against Charlotte at the Kohl Center.