Women's hoops: Tall challenge

Caitlin Gibson (AJ Maclean/Badger Nation)

Badger freshman center Caitlin Gibson must contend with Ohio State's Jessica Davenport

Wisconsin women's basketball coach Lisa Stone is excited for her freshman center, Caitlin Gibson. Tonight in Columbus, Ohio, Gibson will face Ohio State junior center Jessica Davenport, arguably the best post player in the nation.

"What a great experience for Caitlin," Stone said. "What a great situation to be in to be able to guard one of the best in the country… What a great opportunity."

Gibson will not be alone. The Badgers will likely give Gibson significant help in the post. But the 6-foot-4 Gibson gives Wisconsin its best chance to match up with the 6-5 Davenport, who is averaging 18.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game; 20.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in conference-only games.

"It will be a good learning experience," Gibson said. "She's an amazing player."

What makes Davenport so good?

"She's a big girl, long arms, very strong, but she is such a smart player and she doesn't let her emotions get to her on the court," said UW senior forward Annie Nelson, who was the Badgers' primary defender on Davenport last season. "She's very athletic… She's not the fastest player in the game of basketball but she uses her size to her advantage definitely and she can finish from anywhere inside."

Last season an undersized UW team had the 6-1 Nelson front Davenport, and the Badgers tried to double or triple team her when she got the ball in the post. The tactic was not particularly successful, as Davenport averaged 27 points in two meetings with Wisconsin.

Gibson has developed well in her first season of college basketball and has appeared to grow more comfortable with each of her 12 starts. The one true center on UW's roster, she gives the Badgers their best chance at containing Davenport, one of the favorites for national player of the year honors.

"We'll see when the game comes, but I'm just excited to play her," Gibson said. "I know she's an amazing player… It's a little nerve-wracking because she has all those accolades but anything could happen on any day. It's just going to be a good thing to learn from."

Nelson has a few tips for defending Davenport.

"Stay active. Because when they'll get in trouble against her is when they settle for the initial denial and then they forget about that she will not stop moving," Nelson said. "(Davenport) will look for any way she can to get the ball, and (the Buckeyes will) look for any way to get the ball inside to her. So Caitlin can't rest on defense."

Gibson is averaging 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and is coming off a 10-point, nine-rebound performance in UW's win over Eastern Illinois Monday night.

"She's gotten a lot more confident," Nelson said. "And she is a big girl… and she has started to use that to her advantage. I know in high school she really didn't have to because she was so much taller than the other girls. But now she really does need to use her physicalness against everybody."

Said Gibson: "I've just pushed myself to become more physical. I've come a long way… but I still have a lot to work on."

Pick your poison

Stone emphasized that the challenge Ohio State poses does not stop with Davenport. The Buckeyes have out-scored their Big Ten opponents on average 68-54. Junior guard Brandie Hoskins is averaging 11.7 points per game and sophomore guard Marscilla Packer is contributing 10.6 points per game while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.

"We'll mix our match-up zone defense and our man-to-man defense against them," Stone said. "But we'll play differently. It will be more of a containment defense. Instead of getting up on them and letting Brandie Hoskins drive by, we're going to contain, which might mean they take a 3-point shot on us, but do you give up that one, or do you give up the one inside?"

Stone said you have to pick your poison against OSU.

"It is not to succumb to anything," she said. "We just have to be smart about it."

Stone admitted that her team does not match up well on paper, but stressed the attitude that on any given day any team can win.

"We just simply have to go up there and battle, and fight like dogs," Stone said. "Anything can happen."

Stone alluded to recent examples of upsets occurring in college basketball, but caught herself short of bringing up the Wisconsin men's team's recent loss to North Dakota State.

"My Drake team beat Baylor," Stone said, referring to a 2002 second-round NCAA Tournament game when No. 7 seed Drake, then coached by Stone, upended No. 2 Baylor 76-72. "I'll give you that one. At Baylor. Sellout crowd. Two first-round WNBA picks on that (Baylor) team And we go in there… beat them by three. Anything can happen."

Banks', Nelson's status uncertain

Injured starters point guard Janese Banks (foot) and forward Annie Nelson (shoulder) were set to take part in a complete practice Wednesday night, but their status for Thursday's game remains uncertain. Banks and Nelson said that their availability will be a game-time decision.

The Badgers want to be patient with each injured player, to avoid having them aggravate their injuries. Nelson is in the fourth week of what she said is typically a 3-4 work injury.

According to Stone, Banks' injury normally takes 5-6 weeks to recover from. Banks was injured about three weeks ago. Stone said that Banks does not have a stress fracture in her injured foot. "What you don't want it to do is be that," Stone said.

What: Wisconsin (7-12 overall, 1-6 Big Ten) at No. 7 Ohio State (15-2, 6-1)
When: Thursday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. Central
Site: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio
Broadcasts: Live radio broadcast on WIBA 1310 AM.
Series notes: Oho State leads the all-time series 34-14, including a 15-5 advantage in Columbus… The Buckeyes have won the last seven meetings.

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