On March 15, the Wisconsin women's basketball team, now 20-9, will likely receive its first NCAA tournament bid since 2002. It will be the Badgers' first trip to the "big dance" under seven-year head coach Lisa Stone, named the Big Ten Coach of the Year by her peers this week. Expect Stone to receive huzzahs during this weekend's Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
But perhaps the biggest reason for Wisconsin's turnaround was the hiring of assistant coach Kathi Bennett in the spring of 2008. Bennett, daughter of former Wisconsin men's coach Dick Bennett, deserves credit for bringing her dad's tough defensive philosophy to the program.
In the 2007-08 season, Wisconsin gave up 66.9 points a game while scoring 70.5. But Jolene Anderson, who averaged 20 of those as the program's all-time leading scorer, graduated that spring. The only way for Stone to keep winning was to give up fewer points.
With Bennett working to instill a defensive mentality by introducing her dad's legendary "Pack Line" strategy, the Badgers held opponents to 56.6 points per game in 2008-09; this year, they've dropped that average to 55.2.
Formerly a head coach at Indiana, Evansville and UW-Oshkosh, where she won the Division III national championship in 1996, Bennett was seen by many as Stone's eventual replacement. But the NCAA tournament bid and its accompanying accolades mean Stone's probably not going anywhere for a while. The same might not be true for Bennett.