Wisconsin women's basketball coach sees an 'upward trajectory' (2024)

Asked if she was patient—or if she had to remind herself to stay patient during the ebb and flow of rebuilding — Wisconsin women’s basketball coach Marisa Moseley broke out in laughter.

“I’m not patient. I don’t think anyone would call me patient,” said Moseley, who just completed her third UW season. “So, yes, that is a constant reminder that I have to tell myself.

“Also I have to be able to take a step back — take that 30,000-foot view — OK, there’s an upward trajectory even if it’s not happening as quickly as I would have liked it to happen.

“But we are getting better.’’

Not only did the Badgers win 15 games overall, their most victories since the 2018-2019 season, but they competed in the WNIT, their first postseason appearance in 13 years.

Under the 42-year-old Moseley, they’ve won six Big Ten games in each of the past two seasons, also matching a high since 2010-2011, the last time the program had a winning record.

That was coach Lisa Stone’s final UW team and it finished 16-15, 10-6 in league play. During her eight seasons, Stone won more games than she lost five times, all over her final five years.

After Stone’s departure, neither Bobbie Kelsey (47-100) nor Jonathan Tsipis (50-99) was able to get Wisconsin pointed in the right direction. Each coach was fired after five seasons.

So, yes, the Badgers are getting better.

They’re already in better shape than they were in the previous decade before Moseley’s arrival from Boston University, where she was 45-29 in her first three years running a program.

“These are incremental steps,’’ Moseley said of the UW’s path, “whether it’s winning more games than we had the year before, whether it’s the strength of schedule we played …

“Our kids competed in those games and won some of those games.’’

Serah Williams shines

The stellar play of sophom*ore Serah Williams also put the Badgers on the national radar. Williams was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus first-team all-league pick.

The only other UW player to be named Defensive POY was Tamara Moore in 2001. Williams was the school’s first unanimous all-conference selection since Jolene Anderson in 2008.

Williams recorded double-doubles in 17 consecutive games, a Big Ten record, while averaging 17.4 points and 10.7 rebounds. She finished with a league-high 84 blocked shots.

RELATED: Badgers star Williams looks to dominate

So, yes, the Badgers are getting better.

“You hear it from your colleagues, ‘Wisconsin is building something,’ which is always appreciated,’’ Moseley said. “More than anything, we took another step, a building block.’’

As it was, they were very close to taking a giant step by maybe winning the WNIT. At the very least they were a candidate to put themselves in that position, had it not been for some bad luck.

The Badgers won their first two WNIT games over Southern Indiana (rallying from a 19-point deficit) and Illinois State before drawing Saint Louis in the Great 8 Round of the tournament.

Wisconsin women's basketball coach sees an 'upward trajectory' (1)

Less than a minute into the game, Williams was injured and sidelined for the remainder of the night. In the second quarter, the UW lost another starter, Sania Copeland, to a head injury.

Despite losing these two key components, the Badgers put up a fight before falling, 65-60, to the Billikens, who went on to beat Vermont and Minnesota for the WNIT championship.

In the title game, Saint Louis crushed the Gophers by 19 points, making it even more difficult for the Badgers to stomach since they had beaten Minnesota twice during the regular season.

“I’m believer that everything happens for a reason,” Moseley said. “But that one (the Saint Louis loss) was a tough one to swallow, just because we were playing really well.

“We were in a good groove and had some great things that we could accomplish together to finish out the season. Not to say there weren’t good moments without winning the whole thing.

“But we were that close. … Our kids were obviously disappointed. But the experience, regardless of how it ended, was an opportunity to play in a postseason and feel what that was like.

“That was really important when you talk about it (the WNIT) being a springboard. … It also kind of gets the taste and the desire to want more.’’

Badgers vs. transfer portal

The Badgers have had three players enter the transfer portal, including Copeland, a 26-game starter and the fifth leading scorer (7.3). Copeland was a sophom*ore guard from Kansas City.

The question that looms over the program is whether the Badgers can hold on to Williams, a sophom*ore from Brooklyn, New York. Who wouldn’t take a stab at a player of her quality?

“It goes back to just the initial responsibility or your desire to develop relationships with kids,’’ said Moseley, framing her response around the onset of bonding between coach and athlete.

Ultimately, it can be about the comfort level, the trust and rapport that exists, she said.

“They know you’re investing in them and what they’ve invested in the program. It’s her understanding of what the vision is, and where we feel we’re headed with her as an anchor piece.

“If we’ve done our job, as well as we’ve tried to, she’s happy where she’s at and not necessarily looking for ‘what have you done for me lately?’ or the next best thing.’’

Ronnie Porter, a dynamic 5-4 point guard from St. Paul, Minnesota, turned out to be the ideal complement to Williams. Porter had a breakout year and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Besides leading the team in assists (132) and steals (61), she averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. Porter went from playing seven minutes as a freshman to averaging 35 as a sophom*ore.

“The more minutes that she got, the more she took advantage of them,” Moseley said. “For her, it was being able to put people in position to be successful.’’

Williams and Porter have become a formidable one-two combination. But who else might step up and be in position to help? Is there a third impact player to lessen the pressure?

“I don’t know yet,’’ Moseley admitted. “That’s definitely an up-in-the-air prospect, especially depending on who we are potentially bringing in out of the portal.

“Or if you look at the jump that Serah and Ronnie made from their freshman and sophom*ore years, who will emerge from our freshman class in that way as well?’’

Wisconsin women's basketball coach sees an 'upward trajectory' (2)

Moseley believes D’Yanis Jimenez, a freshman guard from Cape Coral, Florida, might be a candidate for that No. 3 role. Last season, Jimenez started nine games and averaged 6.9 points.

“This is a huge summer for her,’’ Moseley said. “She has the ability. It’s just understanding how to do that day in and day out and work on things that people took away from you.’’

Since March 18, Moseley and her staff have been monitoring the transfer portal, whose window will close on May 1. Has it become more valuable to her now than it was three years ago?

“It’s more valuable in the sense knowing that’s the world (today),” she said. “You have to adapt and understand if you get the right couple of pieces, it can help your program significantly.

“That was always my fear — making sure you got the right pieces. There are so many different kids going in (the portal) for so many different reasons and you’re trying to sift through that.’’

NCAA women rule

Women’s basketball has never been more popular. The NCAA championship game between South Carolina and Iowa drew an average of 18.9 million viewers with a peak of 24 million.

By contrast, the NCAA men’s championship game between UConn and Purdue drew an average of 14.8 million viewers, marking only the second time it has drawn fewer than 16 million.

The viewership of the women’s championship increased 90% from 2023 and 289% from 2020. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, a transformative superstar, has been a catalyst.

So have LSU’s Angel Reese, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and USC’s Juju Watkins.

“Women’s basketball just didn’t become good, it’s been a good product,” reasoned Moseley, who won five championships as an assistant to Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma.

“I saw something where the Indiana Fever (the WNBA team drafting Clark with the No. 1 overall selection) are going to have 36 of their 40 games on national television.

“With all of those things, the needle is being moved as it should be.

“It’s great thing that is happening and is continuing to happen.’’

Wisconsin women's basketball coach sees an 'upward trajectory' (3)

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer’s retirement didn’t go unnoticed by Moseley. VanDerveer is the all-time winningest coach in women’s basketball with 1,216 wins over 45 years, 38 in Palo Alto.

“She’s absolutely a legend and has done so much for the game,” Moseley said. “I was grateful for the opportunity to have competed against her as a player and coach.

“It was just the consistency of excellence that she established and was able to have year in and year out that is just incredible. What she was able to do for women’s basketball is priceless.’’

On a Rwanda mission

Since the loss to Saint Louis, Moseley has been consumed by post-season evaluations, high school recruiting and the portal. There has been little time to breathe as a head coach.

Moseley will get a brief reprieve from the routine grind over Memorial Day weekend. That’s when she will spend five days in Boston and Rwanda with Shooting Touch Inc.

An international sport-for-development organization, Shooting Touch has a mission to use basketball to bridge health and opportunity gaps for at-risk youths and women.

Moseley, who’s on the board of directors, said, “Everyone who has gone (to Rwanda) has come back and said it was a life-changing experience.’’

On her return flight from east-central Africa, and the resumption of the new normalcy in women’s basketball — managing the roster — she can be warmed by one thought.

Yes, the Badgers are getting better. And, yes, Wisconsin is building something.

That’s nothing to laugh about.

Wisconsin women's basketball coach sees an 'upward trajectory' (2024)
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