Wisconsin readies for challenge against desperate Illinois

Wisconsin fell at Green Bay 55-46. 

Wisconsin fell at Green Bay 55-46. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Turnovers and defensive lapses have been a recurring theme for the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team. 21 first quarter points coupled with rampant and costly turnovers down the stretch served as the formula yet again for the Badgers’ 69-55 road loss to conference foe Indiana University last Wednesday.

Now, Wisconsin (1-8 Big Ten, 8-1 overall ) will cap-off its brief two-game road trip as its ventures down to Champaign, Il. to take on the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (0-8, 9-13) Sunday at 3 p.m. as the Badgers look to capitalize on an opportunity against a team that is still searching for its first conference victory.

UW will be playing in front of one of its bigger audiences this season, as the Illini hosts its annual “Pack the House” game Sunday, granting free admission to all spectators at the State Farm Center. The game will also be televised on Big Ten Network.

With February just around the corner, Illinois, still winless in the Big Ten, will certainly be up for the game, especially because first-year head coach Nancy Fahey will take to the sidelines against her alma mater for the first time representing the Orange and Blue. A Wisconsin native, Fahey, a four-year letterwinner for the Badgers from 1977-1981, led UW in assists her junior and senior seasons and was elevated to captain her senior year as well.

On the court, Wisconsin will have to be wary of star 6’1” junior forward Alex Wittinger. Leading the Illini in scoring at 13.8 points per game, and in cleaning up the glass at 8.9 rebounds per game, Wittinger is coming off of a monster performance in her last game against Penn State, as she recorded a triple-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks.

Wittinger has been on a terror as of late, averaging 15.4 points on 47 percent shooting from the field during her last five games. Wisconsin must be able to handle her down low on both sides of the ball, though, as she ranks third in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds at 4.3 per game and is the Big Ten leader in blocks per game at 3.3 per game.

Other notable contributors for the Fighting Illini include sophomore guard Brandi Beasley and redshirt-sophomore guard Cierra Rice who have followed in Wittinger’s footsteps pacing Illinois in scoring with 11 and 8.8 points respectfully.

This game will certainly not be a pushover for the Badgers as the Fighting Illini have proven to play their best at home, despite only being able to boast a 6-6 home record. Illinois statistically has shown that it can get under opposing offenses skins at the State Farm Center, as it comes in currently averaging 7.3 steals per game as well and forces 14.3 opponent turnovers at home.

By now, the game-plan should be plain and simple for the Badgers. Be consistent on both sides of the basketball and execute in pressure situations.

UW will once again look towards its featured dynamic duo, junior forward Marsha Howard and senior forward Cayla McMorris. McMorris comes in hot after recording her third 20-point game of the season against Indiana. She’ll have an opportunity Sunday to eclipse the 1,000 career points mark against the Illini as she comes into the game just 22 points short.

But ultimately, Wisconsin will need steady play from a variety of contributors. The starting backcourt featuring freshman Niya Beverly and sophomore Kendra Van Leeuwen must be able to initiate UW’s offense and set the tempo for the Badgers from the start, while sophomore scoring forward Courtney Fredrickson, who has been recently inserted into the starting lineup, must give UW an extra lift on offense by being able to put pressure on the defense.

Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon and the game can be seen on BTN.

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