first_imgAfter losing their last five games in the Big Ten season, a break from the grueling conference schedule may be just what the Wisconsin women’s basketball team needs to get back on track.For the last non-conference game of the year, the Badgers will play host to the Panthers of Eastern Illinois Monday in the Kohl Center at 7 p.m.Eastern Illinois enters the game with a record of 8-10 overall and is coming off a 15-point win over Tennessee State Saturday. The Panthers played a difficult non-conference schedule and lost their first six games of the year.But since then they are 8-4, including 7-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference, and are just a game and a half out of first place in the conference.Eastern Illinois is led by a pair of Megans. Senior guard Megan Sparks averages 15.8 points and three rebounds a game; 5-foot-7 freshman Megan Edwards has scored in double figures in eight straight games and has been named the conference freshman of the week three weeks running. She also leads the team in assists with 3.3 per contest and had a career high eight in Saturday’s win over Tennessee State.The Badgers may benefit from their size advantage over Eastern Illinois, as the tallest player the Panthers can put on the court is 6-foot-2 while Wisconsin can put two forwards on the court that are both listed at 6-foot-4.This Wisconsin team has been hampered by injuries and is looking to get healthy with multiple starters out of the lineup.Senior forward Annie Nelson has been playing very few minutes since her right shoulder injury, and sophomore point guard Janese Banks has not played since early January. Banks, the second-leading scorer on the team, has been out with a left foot injury.”Without a true point guard out there right [now], we’re trying to run hits to get it to Jolene (Anderson) and kicks to Ashley (Josephson),” UW head coach Lisa Stone said. “Hopefully, we get Janese (Banks) back soon. We hope to hear more positive news. Hopefully she can start practice on Saturday or Sunday and get her out here on Monday night.”Replacing them in the starting lineup has been guard Shari’ Welton and center Caitlin Gibson.Gibson, a true freshman from Jefferson, Wis., is averaging 17 minutes a game while getting used to the physical play of the Big Ten.Welton has just five career starts under her belt but has played admirably filling in, averaging five points and an assist in her last five games.”Players have stepped up and Shari’ has done a great job for us,” Stone said. “They’re all stepping up to the challenge and they are not afraid of anybody and I’m proud of our kids.”The Badgers will also be without the services of backup guard Akiya Alexander, who was declared academically ineligible for the second semester.The Badgers have really relied a lot on Anderson, a preseason all-Big Ten selection, to carry the load. The sophomore has responded by leading the team in scoring eight out of the last ten games. She also has five double-doubles on the year while leading the team in scoring (17.4) and rebounding (7.1).Wisconsin will need Anderson and company to have a big day to end their current five-game skid.”Right now we’re mentally drained,” Stone said. “You have to regain some confidence and a mental edge.”A win Monday will definitely go a long way to helping the Badgers get some much-needed confidence for the stretch run of their conference season.last_img

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