"As patient as you can be, yeah. We had a nice meeting in the locker room yesterday after the game and try to identify ourselves and establish some things. You need to maintain optimism bringing young people along. Certainly that's happening. It is a process, and one that I need to maintain my patience as well. It's certainly great to return back to the Kohl Center. We'd have liked to obviously pick up a couple more Ws on the road. But the four teams that we played in this last week were tough, I'm telling you. There's no question.
"We had to be away from the Kohl Center due to the (schedule); there's men's and women's hockey, men's ACC Challenge, etc., and we knew that going in. We had a nice Thanksgiving tournament, played a very tough Houston team who has already knocked off Purdue at Purdue. Middle Tennessee State will probably win their league. Marquette was undefeated when we hit them, and they now just had one loss on the season to UW-Green Bay. And then followed up with Iowa State, who was undefeated at home, coming off a big intrastate loss to Iowa, so they were searching for themselves as well.
"But, again, I'm pleased with the way we started the game yesterday. We really got after some things, but made some costly mistakes. We've already cut film down already and looked at how with a five-point lead and in control against Marquette and Iowa State we didn't close down the first half, turned the ball over six of the last seven possessions. We have to rectify that issue very soon."
Lisa, can you put your finger on some of that, of what that is, whether it was in the meeting with the players after the game or just talking with the other coaches and breaking down tape? Can you put your finger on something that is a common thread in those situations?
"Well, the common thread through it all is that there's a long season left to play. I mean, we've only played six games. And some good things are coming out of it. Obviously some issues are that, we have to get better defensively. There's no doubt about it. We have to get better defensively. It's not the plays or necessarily the players. It's that we have to lock down on defense much, much better and get stops. That spills out both through your meeting with your players, and everybody's together. No one's bailing. No one's giving up. Everybody's still in there.
"But the long and short is that we've got to find ways to find the right combinations in times of pressure. I think as we talked about defining moments in our pressure situations, and who do you want to have the ball, who needs the ball, where does the ball have to go when you have to go inside, outside. But it will boil down to defense and if we can find that the defensive end improves and the right combination of players are in the game when maybe a team is making a run or it's the end of the game, tight game, pressure situations, and who can handle it best."
Lisa, I know you mentioned that it's still very early in the season yet, but for a casual fan that might just look at the box scores, see your team's record, they might go, oh, same team as a year ago or the year before that. Can you say that this team is different, better physically, mentally, or in any way?
"There's no question we're better. The fan of our team, that's the comment we get back: wow, you're very fun to watch, your young players are really coming along. And, you know, we put a lot of pressure on our young players, and that pressure is throughout the entire team. It's not Jolene Anderson and Stephanie Rich, one is a senior, one is a freshman. When we cross the line, we're all the same age level and there's no senior or freshman. We're all the same. We all have to contribute.
"You know, obviously the record, you want that to change, and it still certainly can. Our next six of seven (games) are at home, and we need to protect our home court, get a feeling of confidence. And in a time when you're losing, lots of problems surface. You know, everybody wants to find the answers. They think everybody has the answers to what might be wrong.
"Right now our team knows what we need to address. We'll work on those things in practice. We've got a foe that's coming in in Milwaukee that'll get after us on Wednesday. They're looking for wins as well. And it's just, again, to coin the Bret Bielema phrase, of 1 and 0, just focus on that, not where you've been or where you're going, just where you are right now. And hopefully the team will grab onto that. But our fans and people that watch the game know that we have an exciting group of players, that we are better than last year and hopefully our result is better as well."
This game against Milwaukee is kind of like two teams in the same position, it almost seems like. And then you get Green Bay coming here, and that's no cupcake, is it?
"Well, and both teams have a little bit more veteran-ism on their team than we do....Green Bay has six, if not seven, seniors. And they could be as strong as they've ever been, playing very, very well. They'e got Minnesota this week, which will be a test for them as well. And Milwaukee's coming off a win. They beat Oakland last night, 69-64. And, you know, Sandy (Botham) is a Madison native, a good friend of mine, and they gave us a game last year here, there's no question. And they'll come after us, play very, very tough, half-court defense, try to take us out of our comfort level, try to put a little bit more ball pressure on maybe our backcourt to keep it out of the inside.
"They're without Maria Vaillia, but Kimberly Becker inside has done some nice things. They shoot a lot of threes. In a lot of ways, they are the mirror image Iowa State that we just played. But hopefully coming back home and being able to sleep in our own beds and get back some confidence. Right now our team, they are together. They're still optimistic. No one's jumping out of the boat. But a win certainly will help point us in the right direction."
You mentioned some of the young exciting players, and one of those obviously is Jolene Anderson. Not as a slight to the veteran players you have, but how much can you count on a freshman to lead you? I mean, the answer we're about to find out, can a freshman lead, at this level, a team?
"Yes, they can. And they have to for us this year. And it's not just Jolene. Janese Banks, Danielle Ward, Akiya Alexander, Sharií Welton, all five of those players right now have to step up and contribute from a standpoint of depth on the perimeter. Steph, and Ash, and Bakke, Jordan, Annie, Ebba Gebisa, our returning players, the style that we're playing, we're pushing the ball much more this year. We're trying to play a little bit more aggressive defense, pressure, our full-court pressure. If we could rotate without losing continuity, and we've been able to do that relatively well, I just think what we need to do is figure out the four-minute breakdowns and find out the right players to be in there at that time.
"But from a leading standpoint, if you're talking statistically or just grabbing a team and say let's go, I don't care who it is. I don't care if it's a freshman or a senior. It doesn't make any difference to me. That's the identity we're trying to find right now. And I feel confident that that will emerge. And, you know, we're making the strides the right way. Our first 16 minutes of that half yesterday against a very good team with 7,000 people in that gym, we were in control and playing very, very well. What happened, we're trying to figure out, and hopefully we can lessen the breakdowns throughout the game, in particular turnovers."
As you prepare for practice this week, six out of your next seven games are at home. Are there two or three things specifically that you can work on that'll maybe help lead to a few wins?
"Well, defensively, we'll spend most of practice on defense tomorrow. Right now it's more about our half-court defense and getting stops. We're matching basket for basket in times of pressure, and you can't trade baskets. You need stops, and big stops. And it's our team defense, yesterday it was in the post. We had to stay with Iowa State's perimeter, and we went one on one with Robinette inside. If we played them again, I'd probably double her more, you know. And you just look at adjustments that we might need to make, switching things up from multiple defenses to straight-up man to full-court pressure. So the defensive end needs to be worked on.
"And also, I think playing mini-games and trying to put ourselves in situations, you know, three minutes to go in the game, you're down three, or the game is tied, you have a lead, how to handle those situations both home and away. So the more you practice and rehearse it, and I believe I said this last week, the more we'll get used to it. And hopefully right now the pain our team feels is that we're coming up on the short end and we're not finishing things off. But we're talking about it. We're addressing it. We'll continue to work hard. You just have to get right back on the horse and get after it."
And like you mentioned, I mean, they did show a lot of poise in that first half, you know, about the first 13 minutes or so. I guess if you stick that on the end of like a Middle Tennessee State game, you know, closing out the first half, closing out a game, I mean, is it mostly that defense that you need to work on, or anything in particular that stands out besides that to close out games or to close out halves?
"Well, to close out the half yesterday we turned the ball over six out of seven times in the last four minutes. We had a five-point lead. We went in down 11. That's simply taking care of the basketball. And I might look at the combinations of people that might have been in the game at that time to see why is that happening. But it does revolve around defense, because when we turn it over, and our offense is their best offense; in other words, a turnover leading to a transition basket, that's not good. I mean, too many tipped balls.
"And if six of those seven turnovers-we only had 17 turnovers-six came in the last four minutes of the first half. You take care of the ball, you cut that in half, you're still in control. The game might be tied at the half. Now you're not fighting back from a deficit. But, again, I think it does revolve around getting stops down at the end of the game, because Iowa State was still shooting threes with two minutes to play and not using clock, so we needed to take advantage of our defense and trying to get out to people, cause the other team to turn the ball over, not always us."
Question about your team's health, Ashley Josephson and everybody else.
"We're nicked up here and there, but we should be at full strength. Ashley played yesterday, actually 17 minutes, I believe, somewhere around there, and is feeling much better. A couple colds here and there. Jolene Anderson is fine. We've got the sniffles as everybody else does right now at this time of the year. But we'll be at full strength on Wednesday."
As far as the lineup is concerned, you mentioned that you've gotten some continuity with substituting as much as you have. But are you any closer to wanting to firm up a starting five?
"Well, I think if you look at Annie Nelson's play as of late, she certainly deserved (to start), and she's been a calming force, very consistent performer for us. Had an outstanding game yesterday, I believe maybe her career highs in certain areas. She's a solid force for us inside. We're kind of solidifying the starting lineup, which is good. And I'd also like to see us be able to rotate a little quicker to keep some legs fresh. We've got some people playing probably too many minutes early, that they might be tired at the end of the game. Those are things that, you know, that's early season that you're trying to adjust to. But once again, I think the games that we've played, and the places we've played, and the opponents that we played, we're going to see similar teams in the Big Ten, so if we can learn from these things it was worth it. If we continue to spindle downward, obviously that's not where we want to go. We want to continue to get better. And the team is willing to do whatever it takes."
You mentioned Jolene being one of those freshmen that needs to, you know, step up, be a leader, that it's okay for a freshman to do that. How has she dealt with the transition from high school to college both mentally and physically, and especially with all the attention that she came in with and hoopla from her own teammates to the opposition?
"I think Jolene's handled it remarkably well. I mean, she's posing concerns for the opponents, and they're putting their best defender on her, trying to shut her down. You know, she's our leading scorer. She leads us in almost every statistic. Shooting percentage-wise, she's one of the top three-point shooters and field-goal shooters in the Big Ten. She's one of the top assist leaders, one of the top guard rebounders. She leads us in nearly every statistic. I think she's made the transition pretty well.
"She's somebody that is a mainstay. She's a very, very special player, marquis player as a freshman. She can lead our team because of her abilities. We've set some plays just for her to go to the rim. I think her last 15 minutes at the Marquette game, she put on a show all by herself. It was unfortunate that we were down.
"So we can jump on Jolene's back and she knows she's got a great group of teammates that if she's doubled, and right now she's seeing some double teams. She's seeing box-and-one. When you're going to box-and-one on a freshman from a Big 12 team, you know that you're posing a threat. So that's a great attribute to Jolene's progress. And, again, transition hasn't been a problem. She loves to play. And she doesn't like losing. And I, you know, right now she can't wait to get back out and play again, and I'm looking forward to Wednesday because when she turns it loose she's very difficult to stop."