Return to Big Dance a waiting game for UW

first_imgJunior forward Tara Steinbauer, a Minnesota native, will look to help leading the Wisconsin women\’s basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament victory in more than a decade. It\’s the Badgers first appearance since 2002.[/media-credit]When the Badgers gathered in the Kohl Center’s Nicholas Suites to watch Monday night’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, there was no mistaking the elephant in the room.An aura of anticipation permeated the area, as all members in attendance surely knew what was at stake. After all, these Badgers have been relegated to the WNIT or less for postseason play ever since the 2001-02 season.Once players began to trickle in and take their seats, the looming anticipation turned to mild chatter as family and UW Athletics staff milled about the back of the room. After the show began with a brief UConn love fest and introduction of the four tournament regions, the brackets were slowly unveiled.With many pundits and bracketologists having Wisconsin as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed heading into the show, anxiety seemed to replace some of the anticipation after Iowa and Rutgers nabbed the first eight and nine seeds, respectively, in the Sacramento region.As the second regional bracket, Kansas City, was revealed, UCLA and North Carolina State were given the next eight and nine seeds, eliciting some sarcastic laughter from the audience. After a few more seeds were disclosed, including Big Ten rival Michigan State as the region’s No. 5 seed, ESPN finally rewarded the Badgers for their patience.As a No. 7 seed, Wisconsin will play Sunday versus No. 10 Vermont in Notre Dame, Ind. Although their seed may have surprised some — such as ESPN.com’s Graham Hays, who already has labeled Wisconsin his “team worse than its seed” — the Badgers, as usual, are taking nothing for granted.“I don’t think we really had any concrete expectations,” junior forward Tara Steinbauer said. “It’s always been our goal from the beginning of the year to play in the NCAA [tournament] and I think this year, we felt it was definitely an option for us, but we don’t take anything for granted. Coming into the show and getting picked as a seven seed is absolutely thrilling for us, we couldn’t be more excited.”Clearly, Wisconsin has no plans to rest on its laurels.Once the immediate excitement following their invitation to the Big Dance partially subsided, junior guard and leading scorer Alyssa Karel sneaked to the back of the room to check the rest of the bracket that had been announced during the celebration.Clearly, the Badgers are not just happy to be invited.“I think we have to come into this game like we come into any other game, with the expectation that we’re going to win,” Karel said. “We’ve got to prepare the same way we’ve been preparing this whole year, especially knowing that it’s a one-and-done kind of thing now. We’re very excited and we’re ready to keep playing a lot more basketball.”All season long, Wisconsin has maintained a balanced, even-keeled attitude that undoubtedly stems from head coach Lisa Stone. Always propagating the one-game-at-a-time mentality that engulfs nearly every UW program, Stone has guided her squad into the NCAA Tournament despite being picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten in the preseason coach’s poll and seventh by the media.Buoyed by a strong start to the season with a 10-2 record in non-conference play and four-game win streaks in December and early January, the Badgers were able to endure a win-one, lose-one mentality through the second half of January and most of February to enter the Big Ten tournament as the No. 4 seed.After trouncing Purdue in the second round 73-51 — the Badgers earned a first-round bye — Wisconsin nearly defeated the eventual conference champion Ohio State in the semifinals, but fell short 82-73.In what was surely a sweet taste of irony for Stone, those same Big Ten coaches marked the end of the season by naming the Oregon, Wis., native the Big Ten Coach of the Year.Any gloating by Stone, however, will surely be kept to a minimum, if at all.“It’s really not about me,” Stone said. “It’s about the great players that have been in this program and have built the program the right way, done things the right way, have been patient, have understood, have made changes necessary to be successful and have stayed together. That’s the joy, to see how close this team is.”What might bring out the rejoicing in Stone and her squad, though, will be some success in the tournament. Alongside the Badgers and the Catamounts in Notre Dame will be, coincidentally, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 15 Cleveland State.Squaring off immediately after Wisconsin and Vermont, the two teams provide a glimpse of the possibilities that lay ahead — a victory over the Fighting Irish or the Vikings, and the Badgers will find themselves dancing into the Sweet 16.But of course, looking that far ahead for the Badgers would be a heresy equivalent to ignoring the philosophy that has formed the very backbone of their success.After all, it took nearly 45 minutes of the Selection Show to discover their fate, a large portion of which was devoted to the empire that is UConn women’s basketball.Resiliency and patience have been recurring themes all season, and for Wisconsin, those 45 minutes only hammered home what seems to be their mantra heading into the Big Dance — that one-and-done will not be an option.“Everyone knows who UConn is,” Steinbauer said. “My guy friends in my business classes will come up to me and be like ‘So, you know, UConn?’ and I’m like ‘Who are you to know who UConn is?’“It’s the NCAA tournament; it’s accustomed to upsets. Nothing is given at this point. We’re going to see how teams compete against each other, and hopefully we’re the NCAA champs.”last_img

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