Badgers to host No. 7 Ohio State in big late season home matchup

first_imgJunior guard Alyssa Karel drives in the Badgers\’ victory over Indiana. Wisconsin will look to grab a \”signature\” win over No. 7 Ohio State tonight at it hosts the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.[/media-credit]In the history of Big Ten women’s basketball, no team had ever clinched a conference title on or before Feb. 11, or with four games remaining in the league schedule. That is, until the Ohio State Buckeyes (25-3, 13-2) did just that last Thursday, for their sixth straight season in which they have at least shared the crown.It is that juggernaut of an OSU squad that will roll into Madison today to take on the third place Wisconsin Badgers (18-7, 8-6) at the Kohl Center.Although the Buckeyes already have the conference title wrapped up, the matchup is critical to the home Badgers in a conference race where, behind OSU, just three-and-a-half games separate second-place Purdue and last-place Illinois.Besides conference implications, however, Thursday’s contest also presents the Badgers with a prime opportunity to make a statement against a highly ranked foe, something they let slip through their fingers back in December when the teams last met.“I think we’ve been circling this game for awhile now, and we’re excited to get another chance at them,” junior guard Alyssa Karel, the team’s leading scorer at a clip of 14 a game, said. “We gave them a shot [in December] but kind of fell apart in the second half of the second half, so hopefully we can just give them a complete game, and I think it will be a great game. I’m really excited about it.”“This is an opportunity to seize the moment,” head coach Lisa Stone added. “To seize the moment regardless of who it is. And the fact that we’re playing at home, we want to protect home court and do our very best to play as hard as we can, for as long as we can.”While facing a seventh-ranked opponent is indeed a golden opportunity, emerging victorious will be no small feat for the unranked Badgers.The Buckeyes are led by two first-team all-conference performers, Jantel Lavender, a 6-foot-4 junior center who has scored in double figures every game of her career (93 in all), and Samantha Prahalis, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard who leads the Big Ten in assists with an average of just over eight per game.The first time the teams met — in the first week of December and in the midst of six straight road games for UW — the Badgers built a 28-20 first half lead, before OSU charged back on the strength of seven second-half threes and a 17-1 advantage in second-chance points, to escape with a closer-than-the-score-indicated 70-55 win.According to Stone, Wisconsin played well outside of an eight-minute stretch when they were outscored 32-7. This time around, the UW head coach said if the team can avoid similar lapses, they definitely have a fighting chance.“The play longer, harder philosophy [applies],” Stone said. “And that really is important against Ohio State because they’re talented. You can’t have a four-minute gap — you can’t. You can’t have a one-minute gap. You can’t have a possession off.“You have to be locked in the entire game against a team like Ohio State. And I really, really believe in our team, and we stress that. They’ll have an understanding of what it’s going to take and I believe we can do it.”If they can make it happen, the win would go a long way toward solidifying the team’s chance at its first NCAA tournament berth since 2001-02 by giving them a key “signature” win. It would also put the team one game closer to receiving a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament with three games remaining.The top five league finishers get a first-round pass.But even if the mighty Buckeyes prove too formidable for UW, junior forward Tara Steinbauer said it’s all about ensuring that the team is peaking at the right time.“It’s not about the win or loss at the end of every game, so long as we know that we put it all out there and played to the best of our ability,” Steinbauer said. “If we can come away from the Ohio State game knowing that we left it all out on the court, and that we played the best game we knew how to play, regardless of a win or loss it’s a victory.“And I think it sends us into the last three games of our season with the right momentum.”last_img

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