Feb. 22, 2013
MADISON, Wis. - When Bobbie Kelsey began her second season at Wisconsin, she thought her toughest season was behind her. Kelsey, who came at UW after four years as an assistant at top-ranked Stanford, took over a struggling Badger team that had been to only one NCAA tournament in the previous 10 years.
In Kelsey's first season, Wisconsin went 9-20 overall and tied for ninth in the Big Ten Conference at 5-11. For Kelsey it was a victory since the Badgers had lost 61 percent of their scoring from the previous year. UW also set six school records - for 3-point shooting and free throw percentage - in 2011-12.
Despite losing three starters to graduation, Kelsey was looking forward to her second year. She returned her leading scorer and rebounder in Taylor Wurtz, a 2012 third-team All-Big Ten pick, while a total of seven letterwinners would be back. Seven newcomers, including one transfer who would redshirt the season, would provide the depth that Kelsey needed to compete in the Big Ten.
"We're very excited about what they're going to be able to do," said Kelsey in a pre-season news conference on Oct. 29. "If we stay healthy, we'll have a great year."
Unfortunately for Kelsey, a month into the season, things started changing. Freshman guard Makailah Dyer decided to transfer before the season started and she was joined six games into the year by sophomore guard Lindsay Smith. Their departures brought UW's roster down to 11 players.
Then the injury bug hit. Wurtz played the first five games of the season, ranking second on the team with 12.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but due to back issues, was forced to miss several games. Despite hoping to return and finish her senior season, Wurtz was forced to take a medical redshirt and had back surgery in early January.
Sophomore AnnMarie Brown, who had played in 10 games, tore her left ACL in practice in mid-December and would miss the rest of the season. Brown, a 6-0 guard/forward, was a candidate for the Big Ten's sixth player of the year. She had been averaging 6.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game off the bench for the Badgers.
"My team is really fighting hard to stay in these games and hopefully win them," said Kelsey at a news conference in early January. "We're down some players. Obviously, our No. 1 scorer, Taylor Wurtz, is out .... Also, AnnMarie Brown actually tore her ACL. Those are two key kids we really counted on this year and needed.
"But we're not going to make excuses. Our kids are playing really, really hard. We just don't have quite the closeout that we really need. I'm proud of them. They're giving us 100 percent."
The injuries left Kelsey with only nine eligible players on her roster, including four freshmen and one first-year junior college transfer. The absence of Smith (0.5 points per game), Wurtz (12.6) and Brown (6.4) cost the Badgers nearly 20 points per game.
But that didn't stop UW from battling. As Coach Kelsey is fond of saying, "We don't have a lot but we have enough."
After finishing the non-conference season 8-5, a marked improvement from Wisconsin's 4-9 non-conference record in 2011-12, the Badgers opened the Big Ten season, losing five-straight games, including four to teams that were ranked or receiving votes in the national polls.
Wisconsin wasn't undaunted when it equaled its win total from 2011-12 with a win over Ohio State on Jan. 20, their first win over the Buckeyes in 12 years and 20 games.
"We've surprised ourselves with perseverance through adversity," Kelsey said. "People have stepped up in different ways -- different ones at different times. And we expect that to continue."
Wisconsin pulled off what may be the biggest women's basketball upset of the season with a 63-61 victory over No. 7 Penn State on Jan. 31. The win gave the Badgers 10 victories, surpassing last season's nine-win total, and marked the highest ranked team UW has beaten since downing No. 5 Baylor on Nov. 29, 2008. It was also Penn State's only Big Ten loss of the season.
UW won its 11th game of the season against Indiana on Feb. 10.
"We want to be competitive," UW sophomore forward Jacki Gulczynski said. "We want to be in every single game, and if we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win."
The Badgers are currently 11-15 overall and 3-10 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin is actually better than its record shows as it has been within five points with less than five minutes to play in eight losses this season.
With only nine players, the Badgers have had to rely on their starters to play a lot of minutes. All five starters average more than 27 minutes per game, including four that average more than 34 minutes per game in Big Ten play.
"We are pretty confident," UW freshman guard Dakota Whyte said. "Coach always teaches us to be confident with what you have. Nine bodies are not as great as we thought we'd have. But we are not using that as an excuse."
Kelsey has been adamant about her team not dwelling on what it doesn't have. "I think they understand that we can't worry about what we don't have. Let's worry about what we do have. If we harp on who can't play, well, they still can't play and you are still upset about it.
"So you have to move on from that and let everybody who is available know that you then have to step up, you have to be ready to play, you have to be ready to come in the game and do whatever it takes to have our team pull out the victory."
With only a few games remaining in the season, the Badgers have adopted the motto "Finish Strong" as a rallying cry to what will turn out to be a much improved season despite the adversity the program has faced.