It may be the exhibition season, but Wisconsin's women's basketball team's effort has made an impression.
"I am very pleased to see them playing at the level they are playing at this early," Viking coach Keith Noll said. "After playing them the last two years I see quite a difference in the play, in how hard they play all the time….I was just really impressed comparing—if you take that a year ago how they looked when we played and where they are at today it is just like light years."
Last season, after all, the Badgers lost to Noll's squad 85-74 in exhibition play. This season, Wisconsin wrapped up the two-game exhibition season with a convincing 84-58 victory over the admittedly depleted Vikings. The AAU team played with just seven players Tuesday evening, including three former Badgers (DeeDee Pate, Karie Cattanach and Krista Bird) and featured Nancy Lieberman.
"You have a person over here in Stephanie Rich who we moved to a point guard and we're still finding her shots," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "She's 17 points and 12 boards—that is pretty big time for a point guard."
Ashbaugh led all scorers with 18 points on seven-of-nine shooting and added 11 rebounds.
"I was very impressed with Ashbaugh, she is finishing the shots," Noll said.
Senior forward/center Lello Gebisa started Tuesday's contest after coming off the bench in Wisconsin's first exhibition game. She came just short of the Badgers third double-double, leading all players with 13 rebounds, though a mediocre shooting night (4-for-11) held Lello Gebisa to eight points.
Lello Gebisa, Ashbaugh and Rich were joined in the starting lineup by sophomore guard Ashley Josephson and junior forward Ebba Gebisa. Stone remained true to her rotation, with sophomore forward Kjersten Bakke, who started the first exhibition, sophomore forward Jordan Wilson and freshman guard Kandace Evans reaping early playing time.
"We went big," Stone said. "I think the Gebisa sisters are athletic and they can do some nice things. Lello and Emily want to play together and I think we can run a lot of different combinations."
Evans, however, was whistled for a technical foul with 11:29 left in the first half and was benched for the remainder of the game. Evans logged four minutes and tallied two rebounds and three fouls.
"I don't stand for it and she knows it," Stone said. "We are going to move beyond it. Her lesson was learned and her lesson was taught and it won't happen again."
Despite winning two preseason contests by a combined 55 points, there were points of concern. Namely, the Badgers old nemesis: turnovers. Wisconsin committed 21 Tuesday after having 16 in the first exhibition game with Mankato State.
"I give our kids credit, they played hard," Stone said. "We've got some things to work on. We turned the ball over 21 times, which I'm not real happy about, but we made it up in some other areas."
One of those areas was rebounding. Wisconsin dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the AAU Select 65-37. The Badgers took advantage of 20 offensive rebounds with 29 second-chance points. Wisconsin also outscored the Vikings 50-20 in the paint.
"We moved the ball well," Stone said. "We went inside. I told Lello and Emily I was looking for a double-double. We got one out of Steph and Emily, which is outstanding."