View Gallery (2 Photos)After losing five straight games, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team (2-5) will have the challenging task of breaking the streak against the undefeated No. 5 Duke Blue Devils Thursday at the Kohl Center.A matchup that is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Duke is the most talented squad UW has faced this year. Returning three starters from a team that reached the Elite Eight last season, the Blue Devils will certainly be favored to take down the Badgers at home.Despite these recent struggles, however, the UW women’s basketball team is keeping an optimistic outlook heading into the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.“It’s so easy to get down on yourselves when you’ve lost five games in a row, especially knowing that there were games in that stretch that we should have won, we could have won,” senior forward Tara Steinbauer said. “I think staying confident and being positive and, you know, taking each of these losses as a learning opportunity.”Although the season has not gone quite as planned for Wisconsin following a promising 2-0 start, a strong performance against Duke could mark a turning point for the team. As the men’s basketball team showed last year, being an underdog against Duke gives the Badgers a chance to make a major statement for their program.However, keeping up with the ACC squad will be no easy task, as they have averaged 17 more points per game this season than Wisconsin. Led by senior guards Jasmine Thomas and Karima Christmas, who both average more than 10 points per game, the Blue Devils offer an experienced lineup of guards that are the foundation of their offense.“[Duke’s] backcourt is exceptional,” assistant coach Oties Epps said. “They have a lot of speed, athleticism, and explosiveness in the backcourt. We haven’t faced a backcourt as talented as Duke’s backcourt, so it will be a good measuring stick for us.”Duke is strong at every position on the floor, but Wisconsin will try to protect the lane and force them to feed the ball inside, the idea being to limit the scoring of their prolific guards.The Blue Devils also present a faster paced offense than the Badgers are used to facing, but UW is sticking to its usual strategy going into the game. A team that always focuses on the fundamentals and defense, Wisconsin will continue to focus on those aspects of the game against the top-five team.“We have to take care of the ball always and rebound. We’ve gotten out-rebounded the past couple games, and we can really focus on that,” freshman guard Morgan Paige said. “Turnovers, making the turnovers last and making sure you come out with the hustle plays – that’s what’s going to put us on top in this game.”Part of what makes Duke such a strong team is that they play well on both ends of the floor, holding opponents to 20 points less per game than they score. Shooting 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the arc, their offense will present a formidable challenge for the Badgers.On the defensive end, the Blue Devils average 12 steals per game and 10 more rebounds per game than Wisconsin, a sign of just how well rounded they are as a team.“No doubt Duke is going to be tough,” Steinbauer said. “We’re going to have to play the best basketball you’ve seen us play all year. Their big, their physical … I definitely think our defense is going to have to be at a premium, but I know that we’re up for the challenge.”One of their most anticipated non-conference games of the year and their last home game before a two-game road stretch, a win over the Blue Devils would give the team great momentum in getting their season back on track. If the Badgers can come away with a win it would be a big step forward for both the Wisconsin women’s basketball program and the Big Ten.“We’re hoping to make a statement, not only for the Big Ten but just for our program,” Epps said. “In this matchup, we have a great opportunity, and we’re extremely blessed to have the opportunity to play Duke here on our home floor.“We’re going to try to take advantage of it.”
The following sentence may catch a few Wisconsin football fans off guard, but it’s more or less true.Since Scott Tolzien left the program at the end of the 2010 season, the quarterback position at UW has been unstable.That is in no way a comment on the performance of Russell Wilson last season, and I hardly need to remind anyone of the (unprecedented) year he had.But let’s recap what the Wisconsin quarterback position has gone through over the past 12 months or so:Last year, the Badgers entered spring camp looking at either Jon Budmayr or Curt Phillips to replace the departed Tolzien. But then Phillips was ruled out for the season when a procedure revealed more damage to his ACL injury. Meanwhile, Budmayr – along with young bucks Joel Stave and Joe Brennan – looked clumsy in a spring game in which no offensive touchdowns were scored.After that, the Badgers started looking past everyone on the roster for the starting job and out came a real-life deus ex machina in the form of Wilson.Wilson did incredible things for the one year he was at Wisconsin. He wowed fans, danced around linebackers, peppered defenses with indefensible passes and drafted his own version of Wisconsin’s passing records.Oh, what a fabulous time it was for Wisconsin. But it only could’ve lasted one season, and now the Badgers have written themselves into another hole.Last week, head coach Bret Bielema announced an injury Budmayr sustained last summer will keep him sidelined for all of spring camp. Phillips, who has undergone three ACL surgeries and hasn’t played football since the 2009 season, will see limited action in the spring. Bart Houston, a much-hyped incoming freshman, won’t be in Madison for spring, and a minor surgery will limit his practice time in the summer.So, in a post-Wilson world, the natural reflex for many will be to go all out for Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, who intends to use the same graduate transfer rule Wilson did and has named UW as a possible destination.But can there be a downside to the image of Wisconsin quarterbacks if Bielema keeps pulling them out of top hats?Plenty of people used Wilson as an example to advance the argument that Wisconsin is a place where elite quarterbacks can now feel welcome to play and thrive. But the truth is Wisconsin has yet to prove that to college recruits. What recruits need to see out of Wisconsin is a quarterback emerge from its own system and become a playmaker – not a game manager.As good of a quarterback as Tolzien was at Madison (and his career passer efficiency rating of 153.2 is stellar), he was still seen as a game manager rather than a playmaker. Whether he actually was one or not, he was still seen that way.Wilson was seen as a playmaker. And although he took his play to another level at UW, Wilson didn’t develop his talent at Wisconsin. That took place at North Carolina State instead.If the Badgers really want to prove to recruits that quarterbacks can thrive in Madison, they need to develop a playmaker within its own system. Without doubt, Badger fans would look down the road at Houston for that. Nobody can say for sure if Houston has the capability to step in and play right away, although Josh Helmholdt, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, told me in February he thinks Houston could probably step into a starting role if need be.But, as stated before, Houston’s expected to miss time during summer camp – which directly precedes the regular season, an obviously crucial period for a potential starting freshman.With Bielema answering his first question on whether Budmayr’s injury is career-threatening (by not being able to answer it), with Phillips still healing from an unfortunate string of tough injuries and with two other young quarterbacks that haven’t shown much of anything yet, you begin to think a transfer quarterback is all that can save the Badgers from a train wreck.Of course, nobody on Wisconsin’s coaching staff is dumb enough to start relying on transfer signal-callers year in and year out. But if the Badgers complete a move with O’Brien, it could paint an image of instability at UW. One-and-done transfer quarterbacks aren’t going to convince recruits looking for a four- or five-year home to come to Madison. And the recent coaching carousel wouldn’t help reverse a sentiment of instability, either.With Budmayr, the most logical choice for quarterback, injured indefinitely and with Houston – the future of the program – facing an inadequate preseason, a transfer may be what’s needed. But the Badgers need to get back to developing their own stars under center.Conjuring quarterbacks out of midair won’t help this program reach a new level of riches.Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism. What do you think about Wisconsin’s quarterback situation? Tell him about it at email@example.com or tweet @BHeraldSports.