Imani Lewis photo

UW freshman Imani Lewis drives past Purdue's Ae'Rianna Harris as teammate Kelly Karlis trails during a game this season at the Kohl Center. Lewis is averaging 12.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, ranking second on the team in both categories behind senior Marsha Howard.

One of the popular axioms in sports asserts it is difficult for a team to beat another three times in a season.

The statistical accuracy of that notion may be an open question, but count Jonathan Tsipis as a believer as his University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team meets Penn State for the third time this year in the opening game of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday.

“I’m very much subscribing to it since we lost the first two,” Tsipis said.

The No. 13 seed Badgers (13-17, 4-14 Big Ten) came up short twice against the No. 12 seed Lady Lions in January, losing 71-64 at Penn State on Jan. 3 and then 65-59 three weeks later at home.

In the first game the Badgers trailed by just two points heading into the fourth quarter but the Lady Lions pulled away with the help of 10 free throws down the stretch. The Badgers led much of the first half in the rematch and were down by just two midway through the third period before faltering and coming up short with a late rally.

“I look forward to that challenge,” Tsipis said, looking toward Round 3. “There’s not going to be a lot of secrets because you know the two teams know each other well. I expect it to be what a game between two teams that are one seed apart should be in the Big Ten tournament.”

This will be the fifth consecutive year the Badgers have been one of the four lowest seeds in the tournament, as they’ve had to play in the first round on Wednesday in each season since the conference expanded in 2015.

One of the big hopes for the Badgers to eventually avoid that situation in the future has been the emergence of freshman forward Imani Lewis, who has been a staple in the lineup from day one.

The 6-foot-1 left-hander has put together one of the best freshman seasons in program history, averaging 12.2 points and 7.6 rebounds to rank second to senior Marsha Howard in each category. Among UW freshmen she ranks in the top 10 all time in total points, points per game, field goals made and attempted, free throws made, rebounds per game and blocks.

“I think she’s having a phenomenal freshman year, not just as one of the best freshmen in the league but one of the best players in the league,” Tsipis said.

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Lewis, who chose UW over numerous other more successful programs, remains undaunted after her first season and is determined to make the most of her first tournament experience.

“I just want to go out with a bang,” Lewis said. “I just want to have a memorable freshman year because I’m doing so much that I didn’t think I could do and it’s just like shocking to everybody else.

“My mindset going into this game is to compete and believe. Compete, knowing I can compete against anybody on the court. And believing that whoever I face, I’m going to demolish them. I’m not going to allow them to run me over or make me look bad.”

Few teams have been able to do that as Lewis has scored in double figures in 11 of her 17 Big Ten games. She’s noticed, however, that opponents have taken a different approach to defending her when they have a second opportunity, much less a third like Penn State.

“They know I’m left-handed and they know that both games I killed them going left,” said Lewis, who averaged 12 points in the first two meetings. “So I feel like this game they’re going to take my left hand away, so it’s just about using counter moves.

“I’m always going to use my left hand, whether you try to take it away or not. But it’s about being effective in other ways of scoring or helping my teammates score.”

Lewis has worked hard to establish her mid-range jump shot this season and plans to extend her range to beyond the arc by next season.

“It’s just about making it harder for people to defend me when you have different aspects to your game,” she said. “It’s just staying in the gym, staying the course and staying patient.”

Tsipis is among those who are excited to see where Lewis can take her game over the next few years.

“I think the great part is that she loves watching film, she wants to get better,” he said. “It’s a privilege to coach her and know her bar is so high. She can still improve so much from what she’s already done. That’s exciting as a coach and I hope she sees that the same way that we will constantly push her.”


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