Women's basketball: gunning for the postseason

Wisconsin hopes strong finish can lead to NIT berth

MADISON – It has been three years since the Wisconsin women's basketball team has participated in postseason play aside from the Big Ten Tournament, a period during which the Badgers rarely played a "meaningful" game. The demons of the previous three years may begin to diminish Thursday as the Badgers (9-11 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) try to inch ever closer toward the .500 mark when Illinois (13-8, 5-6) invades the Kohl Center.

The Badgers are coming off an impressive 88-78 road victory Sunday over then-No. 25 Iowa. With a victory against Illinois, Wisconsin could claim its first winning streak since mid-December.

"Going with confidence and being on your home court with your home fans," junior forward Annie Nelson said of returning to the Kohl Center. "We have some great teams coming in here and it's going to be a great battle but these are games that we will win. It's a different presence that we bring at the Kohl Center."

Although an NCAA Tournament berth remains a distant dream, Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone and the rest of her squad feel the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) is well within reach. A .500 record or better would make a good argument for the team's first tournament appearance since the 2001-'02 season.

"The postseason is certainly something we are looking for," Stone said. "It's imperative that our players understand that a carrot is dangling out in front of us and its there for us to take."

As if a possible tournament bid is not enough motivation for the Badgers, revenge is fresh on their minds. Wisconsin fell 79-66 to the Illini in Champaign earlier this season. Senior forward Angelina Williams destroyed the Badgers with 28 points in that contest.

"Some of the shots [Williams] took were unstoppable," said UW guard Stephanie Rich, who matched up with Williams the last time the teams met. "I mean fade-away jumpers and we know we aren't going to stop her, but if we can contain her we will be just fine. She can just finish really well, probably one of the best finishers in the Big Ten. She is just a fantastic player."

Stone and the Badgers believe they are a different team than when the two squads faced off in January. UW had a team meeting following its loss at Illinois to discuss its struggles early in the Big Ten season, and has won three of five since then.

"It was only two weeks ago and it was the game we had our team meeting afterwards and we are a much harder working team, we are a closer team since that game," Stone said. "So we benefited from our last game there and we can demonstrate that here."

"I hope that I can look back and that was [a turning point] I think it has spearheaded some better practices and I think it was instrumental in our win at Iowa that we could dig down deep," Stone said. "We talked about overcoming adversity and right now you can think of the next game as a challenge and a challenge that we need to take care of at home."

What: Wisconsin (3-7 Big Ten, 9-11 overall) vs. Illinois (5-6, 13-8)
When: Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center (17,142) in Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: UPN 14 will televise the game live in Madison and Wisconsin Public Television will provide a tape-delayed broadcast. WIBA AM 1310 will provide a live radio broadcast.
Series notes: Illinois holds a 26-22 edge in the all-time series, though the Badgers have won five of the last six meetings in Madison.

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