This is not just another year for the women’s basketball team (9-20 last season), who will kick off its 2012-’13 season against the University of Milwaukee (9-21) Sunday at 6 p.m.
Even following a disappointing season, in which the Badgers recorded their worst overall record since going 7-21 in the 2002-’03 season, both general expectations and head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s explicit demands for the team remain high.
“Everybody wants to be [good], but not everybody wants to do what it takes to be good,” Kelsey said. “Some want to be pushed, but maybe not as much as I want to push them.”
Kelsey is entering her second season as Wisconsin’s head coach with a better grasp on her players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“I know who’s going to do what. I know who’s capable of doing what out there,” she said. “We try to put them in a situation where they’re going to look good.”
The Badgers come into the season as the Big Ten’s least experienced team, averaging only 1.15 years of experience per player. Wisconsin’s roster features seven newcomers and only two returning starters. The offense could be especially difficult for the Badgers to master as they will be running the oft-befuddling triangle offense for just their second season.
“We are just making sure that everyone is comfortable with the system that we’re running, as well as making [the younger players] realize that we’re going to make mistakes as a young squad,” junior guard Morgan Paige said.
Paige is one of just two Badgers to play in all 29 games last year. She will join three-year starter and senior forward Taylor Wurtz as well as the heavily recruited Louisville transfer and senior guard Tiera Stephen as this year’s captains. Wurtz is coming off a third-team All-Big Ten season, yet her health this year is a concern. Plagued down the stretch last season by nerve damage in her back, Wurtz has yet to play in Wisconsin’s two exhibtion games.
Wurtz was only recently cleared to play by Wisconsin’s medical staff, but her teammates don’t think the injury will be much of an impediment.
“Taylor is always ready to play,” Stephen said. “If she was on one leg, one arm or just really sick, she would still go out there and give it here all. She is a gamer and she is here to compete.”
The Badgers’ offense, with a healthy Wurtz, returns 60 percent of its scoring from a team that set Big Ten records in both 3-pointers made and attempted last season. They will also be aided by some highly touted freshmen, such as freshmen guards in Wisconsin Miss Basketball Nicole Bauman and Canadian national-team member Dakota Whyte.
On the other side of the ball, Kelsey is renown for her emphasis on defensive-minded basketball after she was part of a Stanford team that held opponents to under 57 points per game for three consecutive years. However, the Badgers ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense last year and should have their hands full Sunday.
The Badgers hold a lofty 21-1 lead in the all-time series against in-state rival UW-Milwaukee, yet the Panthers return four starters and 10 letterwinners from last year’s squad, including senior forward Sami Tucker, who led the team in scoring last year. Tucker will look to cause matchup problems for a Badger squad looking to improve on the defensive end.
“A lot of times defense is just effort, it’s just hard effort and energy and fight,” Kelsey said. “For whatever reason we don’t have those individuals yet that are willing to just fight and claw and scrap. We do it in spurts, but we need to do it the whole game.”
Paige said Milwaukee head coach Kyle Rechlicz, a former assistant coach for the Badgers just last year, might have something up her sleeve.
“That kinds of spices things up a little bit. [Rechlicz] understands and knows how we run our offensive system and she’s going to be ready with some kind of gameplan,” Paige said. “It’s going to be more of an execution game and a dogfight.”