Prior to the start of the season, the Wisconsin women's basketball team was picked to finish as low as 10th in Big Ten. Those early expectations are something the team has not forgotten.
""I think that infused us with this ability to play with toughness and some grittiness,"" junior forward Tara Steinbauer said. ""We've essentially played with a chip on our shoulder all season, and that's one of our biggest assets so far.""
An asset indeed.
Wisconsin has blown all preseason expectations out of the water and currently sits in third place in the Big Ten. Additionally, with the release of the latest Associated Press poll, the Badgers find themselves just one spot out of the top 25.
Thursday night, the Badgers have a shot to win their fifth straight conference matchup and claim possession of second place in the Big Ten with a win over Penn State.
Even with the success and recognition these recent weeks have brought, the team is keeping a focused attitude heading into tonight's game.
""We're just going to do the same thing, work hard, and then go out there and compete like we usually do,"" senior guard Rae Lin D'Alie said.
Yet the Badgers have their hands full facing Penn State. Wisconsin has the task of defending the second highest scorer in the conference in senior guard Tyra Grant, who is averaging 19.7 points per game.
Grant and the rest of the Nittany Lions will be up against the top defense in the Big Ten, however, and the 11th best in the nation. The Badgers allow only 52.2 points per game—almost four fewer per game than the next best defense, Purdue.
But Wisconsin sits at the bottom of the conference in scoring offense, despite its 5-3 record.
""I think this is a great sign that defense really does win games,"" Steinbauer said. ""We've known what kind of defensive team we are and we stick to those principles, and I think that's the key for why we're where we're at right now.""
On the offensive side of the ball, freshman guard Taylor Wurtz has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week. Wurtz has made the most of her playing time and currently leads the team in field goal percentage, while placing ninth best in that category in the Big Ten.
Cheering on Wurtz and the rest of the Badgers Sunday night were over 8,000 fans, but there has generally been a lack of students at most home games throughout the year. So why should the students come out to support their team?
""I would just say it's fun,"" Steinbauer said. ""We have a blast on and off the court, and it would be great. It would honestly give us such an energy boost.""
Additionally, Thursday night is student night, which means free admission for every student and free pizza while supplies last. The game tips off at 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center.