In their 67-61 win over Kentucky Thursday night, the Badgers showed signs of a team on the rise, not willing to settle for moral victories and are ready to make the next step, which is evident by their accomplishments this season. With their eight-point win, the Badgers tied school records in home wins (15), single season wins (21) and continue to flourish in the WNIT Tournament – holding an 11-1 record in the WNIT Tournament, including winning the championship in 2000.
With the way the Badgers have played in this season, there's no evidence that the trend will stop anytime soon.
Led by junior Jolene Anderson's 22 points, Wisconsin (21-12) was quicker and more physical than a much larger Kentucky (20-14) squad that prides itself on its athleticism and rebounding. Holding a plus four rebounding differential over Wisconsin, Kentucky was thrown off its game by the quickness of Wisconsin's guards Anderson and Janese Banks – who combined to secure 20 rebounds.
Wisconsin's ability to out rebound Kentucky by 19, including a 25-11 edge on the offensive boards, left the Wildcats searching for answers.
"Banks and Anderson both do a great job of rebounding," Kentucky head coach Mickie DeMoss said. "Anderson is their best rebounder and Banks is their best offensive rebounder. It was one of those nights where they were just beating us to spots. We had a really hard time keeping them off the boards and that was the difference in the game. We've never given up this many offensive rebounds."
For Stone, the rebounding edge was one of the big differences in the game.
"We talked about rebounding and that's a very good rebounding team," Stone said. "To out-rebound a team from a tremendous conference by 19 shows the commitment of these players. We were ball getters today."
What makes the achievements shine all that much more is the makeup of Wisconsin's roster, as the squad is chalk full of talented players that aren't leaving anytime soon.
The Badgers have no seniors and only four juniors on their roster. Anderson has lived up to her billing as one of the top 50 players in the nation this season, averaging 19.2 points and seven rebounds per game. She met both of those numbers tonight with her points and seven boards.
Banks shook off a nagging leg injury that plagued her in the second half last season to enjoy her best season in uniform. Banks' 16 points coupled with her 13 rebounds marked her third double-double of the season and fifth of her career.
While her health proves to be one of the biggest assets to her improvement, the addition of freshman and natural point guard Rae Lin D'Alie has been the best addition Stone could have asked for.
D'Alie's small stature – only 5-3 in height – seemingly hasn't been an issue, which was one of the reasons she wasn't heavily recruited. D'Alie has proven the size doesn't matter, leading the Big Ten in assists per game (4.91) and her 1.29 assist-to-turnover ratio is seventh best in conference. With her success at the one guard, Banks has been able to move to the shooting guard, a position that is more suitable to her style.
With post power Danielle Ward giving Stone key contributions with her points and rebounds (10 points, nine rebounds against UK), Wisconsin, with all its pegs in the right position, is a hard team to beat, especially with experience on its side.
After a pair of Kentucky free throws, Wisconsin found itself down one for the first time all game. The Badgers responded by rattling off an 8-0 run that was highlighted by a Banks three-point play on a little flip shot that somehow found the bottom of the net. Suddenly, a two-point game with momentum on Kentucky's side shifted to Wisconsin's bench, where it stayed for the remaining two minutes.
"It was a really exciting momentum and to get a three-point play really kept our momentum going," Banks added.
"When they took a lead on us, we didn't flinch, played to win, went on an 8-0 and made free throws down the stretch," Stone said. "Without any seniors, the juniors [Anderson, Banks and Ward] threw the team on their backs. The win tonight was a credit to our juniors."
Whether the women's season ends on Sunday when the Badgers take on Virginia at the Kohl Center happens or not, the success of the Wisconsin's women's basketball team shouldn't be a surprise. It's just a surprise that more people haven't noticed.
If Stone has her way, women's college basketball fans will hear Wisconsin make some post season noise next season as well … only it won't be in the WNIT.
"It feels great and it's hopefully a habit that we are forming," Stone commented. "This is the time of year when you want to be playing your best basketball."