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Lisa, when did you feel like things really started to click for the team? I mean, was it around the Illinois game or do you feel like it was coming together sooner than that?
"I think over the last two weeks we've really been putting some things together. Practices have been very focused. I think an understanding of roles has taken hold. The kids are smiling. They're happy. They're working hard. And, you know, we got the breaks we were looking for yesterday."
Follow-up to that, have you done anything differently in the last two weeks that's made them more happy or changed anything?
"We just stayed the course. I mean, if you try to re-invent the wheel at this time of year, you're going to get a flat tire. And I'm very proud of our players for the fact that they're staying with it. You look at Jordan Wilson, I think is playing her best basketball right now, and it's certainly a great time to do that. Danielle Ward, Caitlin Gibson, I mean, people are understanding their roles.
"We go offense/defense with Ashley (Josephson) and Shari' (Welton), and they're both taking hold of that. Jolene (Anderson) and Janese(Banks) have to do a lot obviously, but I just, I can't say enough about our players and their understanding of their roles right now. Practices have been business as usual, preparation for games, maybe a couple different drills. You want to keep things fresh. Yet as far as changing things, we haven't done that. It's just we've come together."
Could you talk about the contributions of Ashley Josephson, especially in the last several games? She's really taken her game up and seems to be finding her shot.
"Ashley is our best shooter. She's the best 3-point shooter in school history. And when she's on, it helps us. Obviously it gives us a perimeter threat and also allows us to have driving lanes because we can put her on the perimeter and have Janese, Jolene, any of our guards penetrate right at their posts, shoot right at her defender and they're not going to keep her, so we can get to the rim.
"Ashley has, even back to the Penn State game, had a slow start in the first half but stayed with it. I mean, she's a shooter. She needs to catch and shoot. And I think her confidence has built up. I was touched, I think, by her emotion after the game last night. I mean, she fought back tears because she's not felt that type of experience that we had yesterday and I'm happy for them. I'm just so pleased for our seniors, that they're tasting some success and hopefully feel that they've got an input of where this program wants to go."
In the first game against Purdue, your guards played pretty well. You didn't get much offensive production inside. Do you feel like Danielle and Caitlin (Gibson) are now more experienced or maybe better suited to facing Purdue?
"I think not just Danielle and Caitlin inside, but the fact that our guards are looking inside. We had balanced scoring now for three straight games and that helps us. When we score 70-plus points, we're successful. Our game goals of 60, 70, 80 have helped us. We didn't reach them all yesterday, but we're close. It was hold them under 60, score 70, and shoot 80 percent from the free throw line.
"Those numbers are certainly goals to shoot for and we've been close in each of those, with each of those goals in the last few games. But Danielle and Caitlin have come around. I thought Caitlin Gibson just gave us tremendous minutes in the first and second half, the way she went after two offensive rebounds, I like that. She was a tiger out there and really got after some things.
"And Danielle came alive in the second half. When you've got two 6-4 players that provide a different look, Danielle is going to run the floor and Caitlin is going to bang with people, along with our smaller post inside, our guard corps is looking more into the post, and that helps.
"The offense that we're running, there's no secret about the swing and Coach Ryan's input and so forth. But if the ball doesn't touch the post, we're not going to be successful offensively. Now that that has triggered in our brain a little bit, we're going inside and we're scoring. And, you know, balanced scoring has helped us. It takes a lot of pressure off our perimeter players."
The Purdue game at West Lafayette, Lisa, there was quite a discrepancy from the foul line. The way that Jolene has been playing and the defense as far as driving more to the basket, do you see that not being as much of an issue here in Madison, or is that something you're concerned about at all?
"Purdue is just a great basketball team. They're very long. Their guards are 6-3 and 6-4. I mean, they're big guards. Aya Traore is a tremendous player, is a very tough match-up for anybody in the league. Katie Gearlds had 32 points last night, can shoot the 3, plays point guard for them. She'd play a four for most teams, but she's a great guard, tremendous player. They've just got an inside and outside look.
"They're playing now on the road. They're coming off a tough loss to Indiana for the first time in a long time. I'd not be concerned about the fouls. That game was our first game a long time ago, and we're a totally different team, as they are. They got on a roll this year because of some confidence.
"Kristy (Curry) does a great job with them. They're deep. They're experienced. They're confident. Coming in here off a loss to a team that's coming off a couple wins, that will bode well for a great environment. Again, the crowd yesterday was electric and we hope to have them back for our last home game."
Well, I wondered what you think the atmosphere is going to be like Sunday night. It's going to be senior night, so the seniors have indicated they'll probably be fairly emotional, which is typical of that. And we don't know what the game is going to mean for Purdue because they play Ohio State on Thursday. So, you know, what are you expecting? How do you keep your team at an even keel?
"I worry more about our team, not so much about them. We right now, we're idle this Thursday obviously, which helps us. We have today and tomorrow off. We get back to work on Wednesday for Purdue. Again, that game (OSU-PURDUE on Thursday) I'm pretty certain will be televised. We'll have a film on that game, and they're playing one of the top teams for the conference championship.
"On the other hand, they still have to play Wisconsin. Everyone right now is jockeying for position in the Big Ten Tournament. That's what we're doing right now. And Purdue can't afford to not play well at this time of year and they won't. They're a very good team They'll play a very, very good Ohio State team on Thursday. And they'll bring their best here to the Kohl Center on Sunday.
"The environment, I think, will be great. It's going to be a great afternoon with our men playing and then we follow up. It's kind of a non-characteristic double-header, if you will. But, again, for the seniors, it's their last hurrah. You know, we'll start all four seniors. And as we start them and they say their last farewells, they're going to come into that game trying to win the game. That's going to be the most important part, is that we prepare to be successful on Sunday night."
Lisa, did you recruit Aya Traore at Drake or when you first came to Wisconsin at all, was she someone you were aware of?
"I didn't know Aya Traore until she got, until we defended her for Purdue. No, I did not (recruit her).
What's been the key to her progress this season?
"She's playing. She's mature, a player that can play inside and outside. She'll take a rebound and go coast-to-coast with it. She's big, she's long, she can shoot the three. I think she's added an outside game to her game. She was basically known for just going to the basket last year. She's big on the glass, again, it's a matchup either the 3 or 4 position, depending on where they play her in that particular game. She can play a lot of positions.
"And she just plays. She lets the game come to her. She's good on the open floor. She can bang with you on the block. She can take you outside, she can take you off the dribble. She's a very well-rounded player and having a great year."
A week ago you were saying that your team not only needed the experience of being in those situations coming down but punching through. What do you think they learned from those experiences or what did you see differently in these last couple times where they did punch it through and close it out?
"Rob, it was their composure yesterday. I was so proud of them, our composure down the stretch, the last six minutes. We broke through. We broke through that barrier that we've been looking for. And our whole goal is to get better every day and we have.
"Yesterday was, you know, was proof in the pudding finally that we broke through. A week ago, you play Michigan State, we're right there. This time there was no, maybe even a different look on our team's face that if you're ever in that position again, let's get it done, and they did. So hopefully that breakthrough that we've been looking for for quite some time will give us some momentum that we need going into the Big Ten Tournament."
Who will your fifth starter be?
"I'm not sure yet, John. We'll see what happens in practice. But I'll start all four of them (seniors). I'll play Bakke at a three."