With 3:52 left in the third quarter, after Courtney Fredrickson missed a free throw, Cayla McMorris muscled her way through three defenders for an offensive rebound, flipped the ball to a diving Suzanne Gilreath, who then dumped it off to Kendall Shaw for an easy layup. That brief moment about sums up Wisconsin’s 107-58 exhibition win over UW-Platteville Wednesday night: aggressive, physical play on the leading to unselfish and up-tempo offense.
Finally, after a long offseason, the Badgers took the court again at the Kohl Center in exhibition play. Prior to the game, head coach Jonathan Tsipis emphasized consistency to his team, especially on the defensive end for his team.
“Especially if you’re not always going to be able to score the basketball that shouldn’t dictate how you play on the other side of the floor,” Tsipis said. “Night in and night out we got to be the best defensive team possible to put ourselves in a position.”
Tonight proved such. The Badgers came out energized on defense from the opening tip, forcing nine first-quarter turnovers from the Pioneers. UW would end up forcing 26 turnovers en route to its victory, through its half-court pressure defense on the perimeter and active hands in the post and dribble-drives.
“We are doing some new things this year to try to fit our team a bit better,” Tsipis said. “We are playing a little different lineup and can we be the best at that and force people to take as many contested shots, keep them off the free-throw line as well as not allow them to get baskets in paint and transition.”
While defensive execution was the emphasis for the game tonight, the Badgers had many bright spots on offense as well. After starting the game cold, shooting a paltry 22 percent and only leading by six at the end of the first quarter, the Badger offense heated up in the second quarter, as they outscored the Pioneers 27-12 and took a 45-12 lead into halftime. From then on, it was smooth sailing for the Badgers as they finished shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 43 percent from three as Wisconsin pushed the pace on every defensive rebound. “We’d like to throw it up ahead as much as possible,” Tsipis said. “Our posts did a good job of rim running and putting pressure on the defense, which opened up the perimeter for us.”
Marsha Howard led the Badgers in scoring with 19 points on 8-of-13 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line. Howard, a 5’10” junior forward who averaged the third most points and averaged the second most rebounds on last year’s team, picked right up where she left off as she showcased an offensive arsenal comprised off rim-runs to the basket in transition, playing with her back to the basket in the post and crashing the boards hard. Howard credits her teammates for her big-time performance against Platteville and her individual improvement in consistency.
“We push each other everyday in practice,” Howard said. “It’s easy when the games come.”
Badger fans also got a first look at freshman point guard, Niya Beverley, who was the 22nd ranked point guard in the class of 2017 according to espnW. Beverley showed great poise in her first taste of college ball as she took care of the ball (four assists, one turnover), initiated the half-court offense and also searched for her shot as well. A driver that does most of her damage closer to the rim, Beverly paced the Badgers with 13 points as she attacked the basket with a variety of layups, runners, and mid-range pullups. Beverley even showed her potential as a long-range shooter. Midway through the third quarter, Beverley caught a pass on the perimeter from Kendall Shaw and calmly drained a three as the shot clock expired.
Another bright spot in the Badger lineup was sixth-year graduate student Kendall Shaw. After transferring from Vanderbilt University, Shaw looks to expand her role as she enters her second season with the Badgers. Shaw, in 16 minutes, finished with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting as she was able to establish deep post position and use her body to finish over the outstretched Pioneer hands. A savvy veteran, Shaw noted that the Badgers must keep on improving on their team rebounding as they head into Sunday’s regular season opener against UNC Charlotte. “We definitely need to continue crashing the offensive and defensive boards,” Shaw said. “We talked about making contact and not just using our height and quickness so that will be a major key as we look to the future.”
An unsung hero for the Lady Badgers was sophomore guard Kendra Van Leeuwen. While she was quiet offensively against the Pioneers, Van Leeuwen showcased an extremely versatile skill set. Playing both guard spots tonight, Van Leeuwen was the most talkative Badger on defense and demonstrated her advanced passing ability as she kept her eyes up whenever she handled the ball, finding teammates both on the break and in the half court.
Ultimately, while it took the Badgers a quarter to get the rust off, the Badgers completely overwhelmed the Pioneers and blew the game wide open in the second quarter.
We still have a lot of work to do there’s no question but it was a great first step,” Tsipis said. “I’m happy that no one got injured and now we are looking forward to Sunday’s home opener.”