Jan. 13, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- The numbers tell a story.
With Lin Zastrow, the UW women's basketball team is 8-4 and averaging 61 points.
Without Zastrow, the Badgers are 0-4 and averaging 50 points.
There are some other revealing numbers, too.
• 33: The number she wears on her jersey out of respect to Larry Bird, even though Zastrow was only 2 years old when Bird last played a game for the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
• 35: The number of minutes that it takes for Zastrow to drive from Madison to her parents' home in Fort Atkinson. She has never spent a full weekend on campus, choosing to commute when she can.
• 2,500: The estimated number of pens that Zastrow has now collected. Yes, she actually does collect pens and stores them in a desk drawer. Yes, she actually took the time to count them last year.
• 0: The number of low post defenders that would rank above Zastrow according to her coach Lisa Stone. This is one of the main reasons why the 6-foot-4 Zastrow has been so indispensable.
"She's the best post defender I've ever seen," Stone reiterated. "She can hold her own inside. We don't have to bring a double very often. She's so physical, you can't move her."
Defense has been an acquired taste for Zastrow, a 21-year-old senior.
"In high school, I could use my height and play behind people," said Zastrow, who helped lead Jefferson to the 2005 WIAA Division 2 state championship as a sophomore. She had a triple-double in the semifinals. "Most of the posts were smaller than me, and I didn't have to do as much.
"The posts in college are so much better. They have more moves and more skill and more strength. Every game is going to be different. You're going to have posts who are going to face up more and do more driving. And, then, you're going to have posts who just stay inside.
"I guess that I just try to use my instincts as best as possible. One of the cornerstones of our post defense is making them shoot a contested shot, and that's what I try to do every time. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to play good defense and I don't want my person to score."
Zastrow credited the "pack-line" defense that the Badgers have embraced the last few seasons. The pack-line is an imaginary line inside the 3-point arc. The sagging man-to-man defense is designed to clog the gaps, prevent dribble penetration and protect the paint.
"That's my favorite end," Zastrow said.
But she's no slouch on the offensive end, either.
"She's our best passer," Stone said. "The fact is, we can go inside and outside with her because she's such a good passer. Right now, she's also one of our scoring leaders. Against Minnesota we were really struggling on offense and we needed her to score."
Zastrow, who scored a career-high 21 points against the Gophers, feels like she still has plenty of room for improvement on offense. She has averaged 7.6 points in 107 career games.
"I wouldn't call it a strength," she said. "I think way too much. It's the end (of the floor) that confuses me because I try to do so many things and try to do them perfect. It's just like a maturing process and learning what your strengths are (on offense) and taking what's given to you."
The X-factor might be her 75 career starts and overall experience as a senior.
"It's the most valuable thing," she said of her seasoning. "I was just thinking about it the other day. I've definitely matured a whole lot, not just physically, but to the mental aspect of the whole college experience. It definitely helps your confidence and the way you think about things."
Stone has seen the "overall urgency of being a senior" in Zastrow's approach and game. "She knows that we need her to be successful," Stone added. "She's kind, quiet, passionate and a very unselfish person. But she knows her value to this team. Without her, there are a lot of vacancies."
Early in the season, Zastrow missed three games with a bruised knee. More recently, she sat out the Michigan State game after suffering a concussion in practice. Her absence was felt in both cases.
When she was reminded that the Badgers have gone winless while she has been sidelined, Zastrow admitted that she wasn't sure what she added to the mix beyond a "presence of calmness."
Maybe it has rubbed off because, surely, there was no panic in these players despite a rough stretch of nonconference losses. "We're a very close team," Zastrow said. "We think of each other as family. We stuck with it and stuck with each other and pulled through it."
Added Stone, "No one was pointing fingers. No one was blaming anyone else. They held on to the belief that if we could get through this adversity by staying together, nothing could stop us. Our team hung in there because they have tremendous chemistry off the floor. I'm proud of them."
Family values mean everything to Zastrow, who was raised in Jefferson. "I love my teammates and I always tell them that," she said. "But my best friends are my family and I love doing stuff with them. Over Christmas break, I drive up and back every day (to Fort Atkinson) so I can sleep in my own bed and be home with my family. I've never stayed a weekend here in college. Never."
She takes pride in being a small town girl. "That really makes me who I am," she said. "Madison is great but I'm not a big city person. We had a team get-together at my home the other day, and everyone said, `Are you sure you're in college because your room looks like no one has ever left.'"
She likes it that way because she has the best of both worlds. "I can live at home and be in college," said Zastrow. "People are always saying, `What in the world?' But I don't regret doing it."
When Zastrow was much younger, she was exposed to a highlight tape of Larry Bird, the NBA Hall of Famer. And she was "star-struck" by everything she saw and heard from Bird.
"He was the guy that everyone thought was too slow and couldn't defend," she said. "But it turned out that they were all wrong and he was the guy who could do it all. You look at people who had success like Bird, especially when you're young. I wouldn't call him a role model as much anymore."
But her teammates know why she picked the No. 33. They also know she has a thing for pens. "I counted them last year and I had 2,000-something," she said. "I'm closer now to 2,500."
That number is approaching the number of minutes (2,727) that she has logged in a Badger uniform over the length of her career - a career that she's hoping to extend into the NCAA tournament. "As a senior, you have experience that you bring to the team," she said. "Hopefully that's what I do."