After losing two straight games to Minnesota last week, No. 16 Wisconsin (4-4, 12-6) looks to regroup as it faces Iowa (0-8, 10-11) and No. 3 Nebraska (7-1, 16-2) on the road this weekend.
“Coming off a week where we played Minnesota twice, statistically, both teams looked pretty even,” said UW head coach Kelly Sheffield. “I thought we were better than what we were previously, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody is real happy about going 0-2 during a week. We’ve got Iowa in front of us, and Nebraska right after that, and we’re excited to get back in the gym.”
Not only are the Badgers looking forward to getting back in the gym, they have a full week to practice instead of only having a couple of days to get ready for a game.
A big problem Wisconsin had against Minnesota was finishing out sets. The Badgers have been struggling with finishing all year, especially against ranked teams. Sheffield hopes UW can improve its play in close games heading into this week.
“I’ve always thought that we can fix this problem,” Sheffield said. “If our players aren’t doing something, then that’s my fault. You know, all hell isn’t breaking loose or anything. We’ve got four losses in conference, which is more than any of us are wanting, but at the end of the day those are four losses against teams that are all ranked in the top 10.”
If Wisconsin is in a close match against Nebraska, it will be very important that the Badgers deliver down the stretch. The Cornhuskers took down top-ranked Penn State earlier this year and have only lost to No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Ohio State. Despite the different outcomes in these games, all three of them were very close and came down to a deciding fifth set.
Some have attributed the Badgers’ struggles in closing out games this year to their youth and inexperience. However, Sheffield doesn’t believe that’s the case and expects each player, regardless of age to improve each week.
“We don’t sit there and talk about our age, we talk about what we need to do to become the team that we are capable of becoming,” said Sheffield. “Anybody that watches us is saying we’re better than what we were a month ago. But if you’re going into somebody else’s place and playing a team like Minnesota, you’re going to have to play better than what we did to beat that caliber of a team. We’re getting there; we’re just not there yet.”
The Badgers will look to gain ground this weekend in the Big Ten, which has been the country’s best conference this year. Eight Big Ten teams are ranked and every squad has at least one loss in conference play.
At 4-4, Wisconsin is tied for eighth in the conference standings with a Northwestern squad that is 12-7 overall. However, a sweep this weekend could build momentum as it heads into the second half of its conference slate.
Wisconsin’s first game of the weekend will be against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa Friday at 7 p.m. The Badgers will round out their weekend against the Cornhuskers Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb.