Worgull: Unraveling the Mystery

Picked to finish second in the conference, Wisconsin's women basketball team started the season 1-6. Now the Badgers are the hottest team in the conference winning five of six. After their season-finale loss to Iowa, how are the Badgers going to rebound in Indianapolis?

MADISON – How does one solve the enigma known as the Wisconsin women's basketball team?

A season with its fair share of ups and downs has been well publicized and beaten into the ground like a stubborn fence post.

For argument's sake, allow me to take another whack at it with a sledge.

Wisconsin advanced to the finals of the WNIT Tournament in 2007, setting school records for overall wins (23) and home wins (17) in the process. What made the Wisconsin horizon look even brighter was that the Badgers did it without one senior on their roster.

After a 1-6 start to the conference seasons, the rumor mill started to turning out a bushel an hour.

‘The team has quit on Stone.'

‘The women were a one-year wonder'

Lisa Stone is the Tommy Amaker of women's basketball coaches'

OK we get it; this team drastically underperformed from its uncharacteristically high preseason expectations during the first-half of the conference season.

But if you're going to blame Stone for the beginning of the season, you have to blame her for the end of the season, as well.

The Badgers entered Sunday on a five-game win streak and are the hottest team in the conference. More importantly, the team has shown persistence with their backs firmly pressed against the wall in the past four days.

On Thursday, the women were down 18 points at halftime against Michigan before mounting a 20-point comeback to win by two; exacting some amount of revenge for the Wolverines nailing a half-court buzzer beater to steal a win in Madison.

It was more of the same on Sunday, as the Hawkeyes shot as high as 83 percent in the opening 10 minutes, building a 20-point lead in the process.

But the Badgers did not roll over, coming all the way back to within a single point with four and half minutes to go before finally succumbing to the co-Big Ten champions.

While Wisconsin was never able to get over the hump in their nine-point loss, the Badgers are learning lessons in resiliency that could pay dividends in their post-season push.

"We have become a team that last two games," Stone said. "To the first part of the season to now, we feel pretty confident in each other and who we play. We have an appreciation in everyone's abilities. I like the fact that our team, right now, is believers and have obviously demonstrated to overcome adversity and be courageous."

What made the comeback ever more eye opening, however, was that Wisconsin did it without any help from senior leader and program-scoring leader Jolene Anderson.

Leading the conference with 20.1 points per game, Anderson was basically invisible Sunday afternoon, shooting 4-for-19 from the floor, 0-for-5 from the perimeter and only 10 points.

While Anderson struggled, Wisconsin's freshmen excelled. All three of UW's freshman finished in double figures, with Lin Zastrow leading UW with 17 points, Alyssa Karel added 15 and Tara Steinbauer added 11 points.

"The three of them did an outstanding job," Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder praised. "I thought they were a lot stronger when the three freshmen were in because they were a lot harder to defend."

"It's certainly exciting for the future," Stone added. "They are three really good players that have walked in and been welcomed by our entire team. Since the beginning of the season until right now, you've seen the growth and maturity in all three of them. They've played their roles very well."

So it brings forth the question – which Wisconsin team is going to come forward in the conference tournament?

Sitting at 16-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin will be seeded eighth in Thursday's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis and will have to win four games in four days if UW wants to make its first NCAA appearance since 2002.

While the task seems like a tall order, UW was picked to finish second in the conference for a reason to begin the year. Combine that with the experience of the Wisconsin seniors and the production of the Badger freshmen, the Badgers have a fighting chance to win four games in Indianapolis for its first tournament championship.

"The Big Ten Tournament is just another season," Anderson said. "Everyone starts off from square one but we obviously have a lot of work to do ahead of us. I think our team right now, it doesn't matter who we play. We just have to put our mind to it."

They'll have to. Otherwise it will be back another season without Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament and another appearance in the WNIT.

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