Paradise Jam Recap
Welcome to Paradise
Day 1: Fun in the sun
Wisconsin vs. Villanova courtside blog
One down, two to go
Wisconsin vs. UCF courtside blog
Nothing to lose
Wisconsin vs. Baylor courtside blog
**Be sure to scroll down for the photo gallery**
After a long day of travel, we finally made it home safely to Madison and back to the wonderful Wisconsin weather (I know we all were excited for that). We said goodbye to paradise around 11 a.m. island time Sunday and eventually made it back to Madison 12 hours and one detour later.
Our first trip of the day was from St. Thomas to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most of the team traveled in a normal sized airplane but four of us including me, Kathi Bennett, director of operations Stephanie Schmitz and video coordinator Aaron Van Lieshout piled into an eight-seater plane and hung on for our 30 minute flight to San Juan. When I walked through customs everyone was asking if I’ve ever flown on a plane like that before, I said no and I received the same reaction…a sly smirk and “Good Luck”. That did not help my nerves!
This was my first time on a small plane like this and surprisingly, it was very relaxing and not to mention the view from the airplane was beautiful. We were able to see all of St. Thomas from the air, almost the bottom of the ocean since the water was so clear and had a great view of the skyline of San Juan. The relaxation ended when we hit a bit of turbulence coming into San Juan but thankfully we were on the ground shortly after.
We had a long layover in San Juan and after hearing that there was a winter weather advisory in Madison, we decided our best way home was by bus. Stephanie Schmitz booked a bus for us and it would be there once we arrived in Chicago. We were delayed a little heading out of San Juan but made it back to the mainland around 8 p.m., jumped on the Badger Bus and were back at the Kohl Center a little after 11 p.m. I thought I was going to blow over from all the wind but thankfully I was able to stay on my feet.
I want to back up a little bit and take some time to reflect on the amazing trip the team had. First of all…WOW! What a game on Saturday. I’m still having flashbacks to the Badgers jumping up and down on the sidelines in excitement after Alyssa Karel nailed a jumper with seven seconds left and the team then rushing onto the court after Baylor missed two free throws for the HUGE upset and Paradise Championship title.
Saturday was an amazing game and the Badgers were on cloud nine…and they had every right to be. They never lost faith even though they trailed the whole game and just plugged away against a tough Baylor team. Alyssa had such a great tournament and it was fitting that she made the game-winning shot. I was definitely shaking with excitement in those final seconds, so for those of you reading the blog, sorry if my descriptions weren’t the best, my hands were a little shaky!
It was a huge rush being in that gym when the Badgers won and they deserved that win because of all the hard work they put in. Yes, the Badgers have some areas where they need improvement, but the fact that they played their defense and held Baylor to just 59 points (they were averaging 78 points a game before Saturday) was a feat in itself, but to pull it out in the end like that was so rewarding for the team.
I keep thinking back to Saturday morning at breakfast with the coaches stressing how big of an opportunity the Baylor game was and how the Badgers had nothing to lose. I think the players really bought into that and had no doubts that they could beat Baylor. It just shows how being mentally prepared for a big game is just as important as being physically prepared to play.
This is a much improved team since the season opener against South Dakota State and there are so many positives to take away from this tournament. These three days, we saw the Badgers playing TOGETHER, the freshmen were developing and growing right before our eyes in the first two games but Saturday, when some of the freshmen were down, the Badgers could count on the veterans to step up and they did.
Within seconds after the game ended, the Badgers were on the court celebrating and the team received orange championship hats with a Paradise Jam pin on them. The team posed for pictures and was awarded with the tournament trophy. Alyssa Karel was then announced the tournament MVP and Rae Lin D’Alie also accepted her award for making the all-tournament team. Before we left the gym, some local kids wanted the Badgers’ autographs and pictures…they were pretty much rock stars.
Everyone was buzzing on our way back to the hotel. The coaches were on one bus, players on the other, and the coaches were texting everyone they knew. We were driving side by side with the players’ bus and every time the players drove by, they screamed at the top of their lungs. They also sang a rendition of Varsity and On Wisconsin! by the time we reached the hotel. It was a very spirited ride home and something I won’t forget for a long time.
The team then had the rest of the evening free and a bunch of the players took a taxi to see some of the sights and grab a bite to eat away from our hotel since this was some of the only free time they had all trip. The players still had a curfew but the coaches pushed it back a little thanks to the win.
As I said before, this trip was an amazing experience for the team, not just because we’re bringing home the championship, but I think the team learned a lot about itself. I think the team is starting to find its identity and is really buying into the new defense. The Badgers also learned how to be resilient on this trip and play until the end. In the first game, Wisconsin fought off a Villanova comeback but hung on for the win, UCF came close in the end of Friday’s game but the Badgers never lost control and Saturday against Baylor, the Badgers never gave up.
Off the court, the Badgers had a great opportunity to bond over a snorkeling trip and probably learned a lot about their teammates. This was just the second road trip this season and with four freshmen and two new coaches, everyone is still finding out about how everyone operates on the road. This six day adventure was definitely beneficial for the Badgers and it will help them as they approach the next stage of the season.
The Badgers soaked in their excitement over the Baylor win but the time to celebrate is over and it’s time to get back to work. Wisconsin plays three games at home this week, beginning Tuesday when UW-Milwaukee comes to town at 6 p.m. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is Thursday night against Virginia Tech and then Northern Illinois comes to the Kohl Center at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available for all games and I know the Badgers would love to have a huge crowd to come home to after winning the Paradise Jam.
Thank you all for reading along this past week…it’s been a blast traveling with this team and I’ve had a great time filling everyone in with the blogs. If you enjoy the blogs or have comments and suggestions, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) …I’d love to hear your input. And of course, bookmark UWBadgers.com so you can follow the Wisconsin women’s basketball at home and on the road this season.