Fresh off an 80-66 victory over the Charlotte 49ers, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (1-0) will host an in-state rival, the Green Bay Phoenix (1-0), at 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center. Normally, the larger more endowed school tends to dominate these rivalry games, but Green Bay has given the Badgers their bang-for-their buck the last few years.
A perennial powerhouse in the state of Wisconsin, the Phoenix have won the last three Horizon League Conference Tournament Championships, and have won the last 19 Horizon League regular season titles. Just last year, Green Bay, under fifth year head coach, Kevin Borseth, secured its 40th consecutive winning season. Simply put, the Phoenix are the benchmark of excellence in the state of Wisconsin.
“They do an amazing job. Their player development is just amazing,” Wisconsin head coach, Jonathan Tsipis said. “They lose someone to the WNBA draft and another one playing overseas in Spain it just seems like they don’t skip a beat.”
The Phoenix return a lot of talent from last year’s 27-6 squad that earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. Headlining the returners include preseason All-Horizon League selections, senior guards, Jessica Lindstrom and Allie LeClaire, who averaged 13.1 and 16.7 points per game respectively. In addition, the Phoenix return a lot of their rotation from the No. 2 ranked defense in the country from last year. The Phoenix picked up right where they left off last year as they defeated University of Chattanooga 60-30 in their season opener, locking down the Mocs to shoot just 26.5 percent from the field and forcing 24 turnovers.
“They play the game so purely, they share the ball, they play with a toughness defensively, they don’t back down from people,” Tsipis said. “Knowing that everytime that you play them in Wisconsin at Madison there is that part in which we envy them for the level they’ve been at from a conference championship standpoint and NCAA tournament experience.”
Last year, the Badgers were able to squeeze out a narrow 54-53 victory at the Kress Center at Green Bay, Wisconsin. After trailing late in the fourth quarter, sophomore guard Suzanne Gilreath hit a big 3-pointer before Malayna Johnson hit a game-winning layup that secured a victory for the Badgers for the first time in three years.
“They packed the place for us, they got everyone there and we beat them,” assistant coach Sasha Palmer said. “It was a huge win for us especially going into the break.”
In big rivalry games, teams tend to lean towards their more experienced leaders who hold a greater appreciation for the rivalry game. Cayla McMorris, who scored 15 points last year’s Badger victory realizes the importance of the game as she enters her last go-around with the Phoenix.
“Both teams being from Wisconsin, we want to be able to battle each other and show who’s the best,” McMorris said. “Green Bay has always been a great team and coming off a win from them last year, we know that they will be hungry to come in here to get a win from us.”
As a leader and captain for the Badgers this year, McMorris knows what it takes to defeat the Phoenix, who for the 20th straight year were picked the preseason favorites to win the Horizon league championship.
“We got to play our game, be calm, and don’t let them speed us up,” McMorris said.
The Badgers will have to play solid, fundamental basketball in order to defeat the Phoenix and execute down the stretch.
The Badgers will look to build off a solid first half against Charlotte in which they scored 52 points while shooting a blistering percent from the field, which included converting on 10-of-15 3-point attempts. Gilreath and Courtney Fredrickson were huge contributors off the bench and will look to build off this momentum to help UW in this crucial early season rivalry game.
“We definitely want to come out and show that we are Wisconsin,” Palmer said. “We want to win all of our games but these are in-state rival schools so there are definitely bragging right involved.”