It is crunch time for the Wisconsin women's basketball team. After nearly an entire season of dramatic highs and deflating lows, the team is staying strong and playing some of its best basketball all year.
The group that calls themselves ""team unity"" has emphasized comradery all season, and now, with just two games remaining, the team is close to reaching the crescendo of what head coach Lisa Stone has repeatedly called a ""special season.""
""We want to do something this year,"" Stone said. ""We're in a good place right now, but we have more to do.""
Before the Badgers can begin to think about conference standings and postseason tournaments, though, the team must focus on the next game and the next game only. That next game is at Penn State this Thursday.
""We have this saying that every game is the biggest game of the year,"" junior forward Tara Steinbauer said. ""This is the moment in front of us, and we can only do as much as we can do for the game that we have at that time.""
Wisconsin faced the Nittany Lions just over a month ago. The Badgers were riding a four-game conference winning streak, sitting on the brink of the national rankings and ready to take possession of second place in the Big Ten with a win.
However, in a potentially season-defining moment, the Badgers' offense went flat. The team shot a season-low 28 percent from the floor and scored just 43 points, also a season low. In that game, Wisconsin was out-shot, out-scored, out-rebounded, out-blocked, out-fouled and simply out-hustled.
Now, in a conference race that is more crowded than a Route 80 bus after class, the Badgers find themselves one game in front of Penn State and are looking to avenge this season's previous loss.
Leading the charge into Happy Valley for Wisconsin is Alyssa Karel. The junior guard leads the team in scoring this season with over 14 per game and has scored in double digits in each of the team's last nine contests.
Just as important has been the effort put forth by the Wisconsin bench. Especially down the stretch, contribution from across the roster has been key to the Badgers' current position in the Big Ten.
""People are getting tired, legs are getting tired, and it's just the fact that we can go to our bench and have such production,"" Karel said. ""It' just knowing that we can really go to anyone.""
One key to victory for the Badgers against Penn State tonight will be playing aggressively. Last Thursday, Wisconsin got to the line just eight times in a loss to Ohio State. Three days later in a win against Michigan, the Badgers shot 25 times from the line. This aggressiveness is all part of the team's mentality and plan to finish strong down the stretch.
""Don't stop now. Now is the time to forge forward and finish strong,"" Stone said. ""The way you finish strong is staying focused on the next game, and that's Penn State.""