The Badgers would be hard pressed to choose a more challenging return to conference play than what they face Thursday night when No. 3 Ohio State comes to the Kohl Center for a 7 p.m. tip.
Since losing to Big Ten leader Penn State in their conference opener, the Buckeyes are riding an eight-game winning streak that included a win over then-No. 4 Rutgers. At 19-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, Ohio State is considered one of the favorites for the national title.
Conversely, Wisconsin's young team is still trying to establish itself, having struggled to a 1-5 Big Ten mark (7-9 overall). Pulling an upset over a team as good as Ohio State would certainly help.
"This is going to be a good challenge for us," freshman guard Janese Banks said. "They are a great team, it's a great opportunity for us so I think it will be fun."
The Badgers have had a week away from game competition since beating Cleveland State here last Thursday to wrap up non-conference play and break up the 11-day Big Ten intermission.
"It was a good non-conference game for us to have," junior forward Annie Nelson said. "They pushed tempo on us and that's what all the Big Ten teams do.
"We have to came back with the same mentality we come with every game. Play hard, push the ball and bring your presence inside and outside."
Nelson and Wisconsin's other post players will face a huge challenge in the form of Ohio State sophomore center Jessica Davenport. The 6-foot-4 lefty was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. One of the premier post players in the nation, she is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (17.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.0 per game).
To defend Davenport, Nelson said, the Badgers need to, "get in front of her. Get our hands up and try to pressure her as much as possible. Don't let the ball get in as easily as other teams have let it get inside because she'll just drop step right over us because she has the length."
Davenport is the focal point of a balanced Ohio State lineup that leads the conference in scoring offense (74.4 points per game) and scoring defense (50.8 points allowed per game) for a gaudy 23.6-point average margin-of-victory.
Overplay the paint and Ohio State's talented guards will take advantage. Senior Caity Matter (13.8 points per game), for instance, has made 44 of 96 3-point attempts season and sophomore Brandie Hoskins (12.6 points per game) leads the Big Ten with 62 percent field goal shooting in conference-only games. The point guard tandem of senior starter Ashley Allen and junior reserve Kim Wilburn combine for nearly seven assists per game.
"You can't double team off Matter," Banks said. "You've got to stay with her. It's got to come from the other people. You just have to trust that you are doing your job and your second line on defense is right behind you doing theirs."
"We are obviously not going to stop both Davenport and Matter but we just have to contain them," freshman guard Jolene Anderson said. "We have to establish a post game our self. Get Davenport in foul trouble and have her sit on the bench would be a help for us."
Wisconsin is 0-3 this season against ranked opponents and 0-11 versus ranked opponents in head coach Lisa Stone's two years on campus. The Badgers' last win over a ranked opponent was over then-No. 19 Minnesota on March 1, 2002.
Wisconsin (7-9 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) v. No. 3 Ohio State (19-2, 6-1)
When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 27
Where: Kohl Center (17,142) in Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts:Live television broadcast on UPN 14 in Madison. Live radio broadcast on WIBA AM and at UWBadgers.com
Series notes: Ohio State leads the all-time series 32-14, including an 11-9 edge in games in Madison. The Buckeyes have won their last five matchups with Wisconsin.