Done with home slate, Wisconsin heads to Ohio State
Laura Hill/The Badger HeraldNo home games are left to be played, and the Wisconsin women’s basketball team is hoping Sunday’s contest against the Ohio State Buckeyes will be the start of a lengthy road trip heading into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.The matchup of these two teams is the first this season, and there is a prize to be won. If Wisconsin (15-12, 10-5) wins, it will receive a very important first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. If Ohio State (18-9, 9-6) wins, there could still be a lot of shuffling to be done in the top five of the conference to determine who gets the byes.The tournament implications don’t stop with the Big Ten Tournament, either. They continue with the bracketology of the NCAA Tournament. Currently, Wisconsin is not receiving much love from the projections, despite being third place in the Big Ten. ESPN.com’s latest women’s basketball bracket has six Big Ten teams in, and Wisconsin is not one of them.A win against Ohio State on the road could do wonders for Wisconsin’s tournament dreams.“Ohio State has a very strong, solid strength of schedule and RPI, so this, along with every game we play down the stretch right now is like a tournament game,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “The strength of Ohio State…to be able to be victorious over them would bode well for our resume.”After a road win over No. 8/10 Michigan State Thursday, Ohio State is playing well heading into the matchup with Wisconsin. The Buckeyes also boast the consensus top player in the Big Ten – and arguably the country – in senior forward Jantel Lavender.Lavender is leading the Big Ten with 22.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and has never failed to get 10 points in a single game her entire career – an NCAA-record 129 consecutive games.Much of the responsibility for shutting down Lavender will fall on the shoulders of Badger senior forward Lin Zastrow, and she has had experience battling some of the top post players in the country. Zastrow allowed the country’s eighth leading scorer, Northwestern’s Amy Jaeschke (22.3 ppg), to score only 25 total points in two games this season.Barring foul trouble, Zastrow will be forced to play every second that Lavender is on the floor, which could expose the depth Wisconsin lost when senior forward Tara Steinbauer went down with a torn ACL.“You just want to play the best you can and limit [Lavender’s] shots, limit her touches,” Zastrow said. “You can’t stop her. She is too good of a player.”Ohio State also brings three other players who average over 10 points per game and will force Wisconsin to make a collective defensive effort to stop the Buckeyes, and it is that effort that leads senior guard Alyssa Karel to believe in a victory.“I think that if they could take any one of us 1-on-1, they would probably win, but it is the fact that we’re going to play team defense, we are going to stop them as a team,” Karel said.The biggest advantage the Buckeyes seem to have is its past. Ohio State has won 17 consecutive games against Wisconsin, but that statistic rings on deaf ears.“It’s less about the history and more about the fact that we are playing the bodies and the uniforms, not the name on the jersey. They are good, and they are good for a reason,” Stone said, also making sure to point out that Wisconsin has never been ahead of Ohio State in the conference standings at this point in the season, either.The Badgers are hoping that a sloppy performance that produced 20 turnovers against Indiana Wednesday night will help them be ready for the showdown with the Buckeyes.“We played ugly but still won [Wednesday] night, and we will be sharper and focused [because of it], and we know the magnitude of this game…we stay focused on that,” Stone said.
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