Playing mostly a backup role, outside of one start in the game at UW-Milwaukee, sophomore forward Marsha Howard has been a sparkplug for this young Badgers team.
Wisconsin (2-5) has been struggling to find its identity all season. After a pair of early losses, a down-to-the-wire loss against Saint Francis and a close victory over Butler University, the Badgers don’t necessarily possess the record they wish they did.
Led by junior guard Cayla McMorris and redshirt senior Avyanna Young, Wisconsin is looking for leaders. Howard thinks she can be just what the Badgers need in this down period, and she knows what she has to do.
“Communicating with my teammates and trying to keep them uplifted,” she said.
Head coach Jonathan Tsipis, a rookie coach in the UW program, has been putting a lot of different athletes on the floor trying to find a winning formula. The combination of a young team and a new coach can be difficult to work with at times, as both players and staff must adjust to a vastly different system.
“Definitely a new coaching style,” Howard said. “There are a lot of differences coming in, between this season and last season, but we definitely have better team chemistry this year.”
Wisconsin just left the Rebel Lady Round-Up invitational hosted by UNLV last week, where the Badgers split their two games against Ole Miss and Tennessee State.
In those games, Howard played 42 total minutes, recording 18 points, 14 rebounds and just three turnovers. She knows exactly what Tsipis wants from her whenever she steps on the court.
“For me to play my role when I’m out there,” Howard said. “If I’m two feet in the paint I should be looking to score. Just to go out there and give it my all.”
Howard isn’t new to the college basketball scene or the Wisconsin program, so she feels she has the ability to set an example not only for the freshmen, but every athlete on the roster.
“Definitely I try to be a leader,” Howard said. “Not one person can do it, so if we all step up and hold our parts we continue to bond and grow as a team.”
Being a leader is nothing new to the 5-foot-10 forward.
“I’ve always had a leadership role since I was younger playing basketball, so it’s just something that I do naturally.” Howard said. “I don’t need to be a captain or upperclassman to lead by example.”
Wisconsin has found itself in a few close games in this young season. Against both Saint Francis and Dayton, the Badgers were right in the thick of things, but found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard when the buzzer sounded.
“Defense and communication is getting better,” Howard said. “It’s just the aspect of being able to close out a game, together.”
The Badgers aren’t giving up on the season yet, and they won’t let themselves set any easy goals—they want to do big things.
“Go into the Big Ten tournament .500, look to win the ACC challenge, things of that nature,” Howard said. “Anything possible that we can strive for I think we’re going to try to achieve it.”
This coming week, North Carolina will come to the Kohl Center with a 5-1 record and a hold on first place in the ACC after a big victory over the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
Following that, the Badgers will travel to Normal, Ill., to take on Illinois State, which currently sits at 2-3 and is coming off of two losses to Yale and Northern Illinois.
Attempting to stop a powerhouse like UNC will not be an easy task, but shying away from competition has not been the motto of the Badgers thus far.
“Our biggest focus would have to be staying strong and holding our ground,” Howard said. “Boxing out and continue to lead in rebounding.”
Howard knows what the team needs to focus on and she knows what she needs to do when she enters the game.
Wisconsin is entering this week of play shooting 35.9 percent while allowing its opponents to shoot upwards of 40 percent. The Badgers are, however, out-rebounding their opponents 44-to-40 per game.
Not only is this week a chance for the second-year forward to continue her strong play off the bench, it is also a chance for Wisconsin to prove that it belongs near the top of the Big Ten.
The matchup with North Carolina tips off Thursday at 7 p.m., and the Badgers will open their game against Illinois State Sunday at 2 p.m.