Women's basketball: Badgers ready for IU

Wisconsin looks to build momentum from Sunday's victory

All season long the Wisconsin women's basketball team has fought and clawed with the best post players in the nation. But despite valiant efforts against some of the top teams in the country, the undersized Badgers have struggled down low in Big Ten play for much of the year. But if Sunday's 79-71 victory against Michigan is any indication, the bruises UW experienced in the first half of the Big Ten season are starting to pay dividends.

Head coach Lisa Stone received impressive performances from senior forward Ebba Gebisa (season-high 18 points) and Annie Nelson (career-high 13 rebounds) in the Badgers' second conference win of the season, last Sunday, something the Badgers hope will carry over for the rest of Big Ten play. Along with the success has come a renewed confidence in the players down low as UW looks to make it two straight conference wins as they travel to face Indiana Thursday in Bloomington.

"The first half of the Big Ten season, [assistant] coach [Donna] Freitag got on us a lot for not being very productive in the post," Nelson said. "We are going against some great players that are a lot bigger than us, but we have been working a lot more down low recently, and on being finesse players."

Indiana does not posses the dominant inside presence of other teams in the Big Ten and the Badgers may be able to exploit that weakness. The Hoosiers leading scorer, Cyndi Valentin, is a 5-foot-8 guard and the only member of the IU squad to average double figures.

Meanwhile, three Badgers are averaging double figures, led by freshman guard Jolene Anderson. Anderson, the Big Ten's fourth leading scorer (17.9 points per game) has led the Badgers in scoring 11 times this season, but is also Wisconsin's second leading rebounder and has reaped the benefits of the hard work of the post players down low.

"They have been getting beat down inside," senior guard Stephanie Rich said. "And a lot of people talk about how Jolene and Janese [Banks] have been getting a lot of offensive rebounds, but that's just because the post players have been working their tails off and there have been openings to get those rebounds so they can just slide in there."

The Hoosiers are the league's worst offensive team, averaging close to 10 points per game less than any other Big Ten squad, and are shooting worse than any other squad in the conference (35 percent). Yet, they thrive on the defensive side of the ball.

Led by Kathi Bennett, former UW coach Dick Bennett's daughter, the Bennett philosophy of hard-nose defenders has followed her to Bloomington. Indiana allows just 52.6 points per game, second lowest in the Big Ten and leads the conference in both opposing teams' field goal percentage (35 percent) and 3-point percentage (27 percent).

"Coach Bennett's daughter is all defense and they lost one of their best scores so scoring has been a problem for them, but they lead the conference in almost all defensive categories," Rich said. "They are always in your shorts; they just don't let up any easy baskets."

"Against Indiana you have to be patient," Stone said. "I have coached against Kathi Bennett for 12 years, and our paths are very similar… Indiana has some of the best pressure defense I have ever seen. Their intensity just comes from their defense."

Even though the Hoosiers possess the best defense in the Big Ten, and possibly the country, the Badgers know they have to worry more about themselves. Either way, Wisconsin is looking forward to setting foot on a court and in a building so rich in history.

"I just think that it is a shooters gym because it has a lot of history in it," Rich said "You think back to the days of the Steve Alford and Bobby Knight team and it's just pretty cool."

What: Wisconsin (8-10 overall, 2-6 Big Ten) at Indiana (8-11, 1-8)
When: 6 p.m. Central, Thursday, Feb. 3
Where: Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
Broadcasts: WIBA 1310 AM in Madison and www.uwbadgers.com will provide live audio broadcasts.
Series notes: Indiana leads the all-time series 36-13, including wins in four of the past five games. The Badgers have only won two games in Bloomington.

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