March 7, 2024 

Is Serah Williams the first pillar of a successful rebuild at Wisconsin?

Moseley: 'I think for this group, that is definitely a huge step in the right direction'

For Marisa Moseley, coaching Wisconsin women’s basketball is far different than coaching at UConn for any number of reasons. 

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Now, of course, she’s a head coach. But Wisconsin also has nowhere near the reputation that Geno Auriemma and the Huskies had when she was an assistant there and could recruit top player after top player.

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When she took over the Wisconsin program ahead of the 2021-22 season, the Badgers had gone 17-104 in Big Ten play over the previous six seasons. In other words, Wisconsin had won just 14% of its conference games. Rebuilding the Badgers would take time, patience and a coach who could convince talented players to play for a program that had no immediate track record of any kind of success. 

As Wisconsin prepares to play in its first Big Ten Tournament game as the 10 seed against No. 7 Penn State in Minneapolis on Thursday, Moseley’s under no illusion that this rebuild is anywhere near complete; Wisconsin finished 6-12 in the conference this season. But she has a player in sophomore forward Serah Williams who could be the building block for future success in Madison.

This season, Williams is averaging 18.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. The 11.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks both rank seventh out of 3,442 qualified players, according to HerHoopStats. Since Jan. 7 against Illinois, Williams has a 15-game double-double streak, a new Wisconsin record. She’s tied former Iowa star ​​Megan Gustafson‘s double-double streak for longest in Big Ten history. 

There’s the caveat that as the best player on a rebuilding team, she’s become the vehicle through which everything else runs, thus putting her in position to have more opportunities for points and rebounds. But her numbers speak for themselves.

“I couldn’t have predicted in these short two years what she has been able to develop into this quickly,” Moseley said. “I really felt like the way that she was able to run the floor and her size, I thought she had the ability to be dominant on the low block, both offensively and defensively.”

That dominance has materialized. 

Moseley coached her fair-share of elite players at UConn, from Maya Moore to Tina Charles to Breanna Stewart. But she said she’s never witnessed a stretch of success quite like this.

“I think because of what Serah means to our program and the team right now, her being able to do this when you know other teams are preparing and keying in on her to try to stop her and she’s still been able to put up the type of numbers she’s putting up and be as effective, I don’t know that I’ve seen that before,” she said.

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Williams is a force on the glass, and she could very well be the player that starts the program trending in the right direction — yet she very nearly didn’t even take Moseley’s call at all when she was being recruited in high school. 

She’d already had a list of schools narrowed down. Wisconsin wasn’t on it.

She took the call anyway — “What’s the worst thing that happens?” Dave Picton, her coach at the time, asked her. 

“I really just liked her vision for the program,” Williams recalled. “I had the ability to come in and make an impact right away.”

Still, even she didn’t necessarily expect to find success this quickly.

“I really just enjoy playing basketball and competing,” she said, “and I guess everything just started falling into place.”

Moseley took this job knowing it would take awhile to build the program to a level of her standards. The transfer portal looms as a tempting way to try to cobble together enough talent to win quickly, but she’s committed to recruiting and developing a core group of players to turn the program around.

Wisconsin’s three top players in terms of minutes this season are all sophomores — Williams, Ronnie Porter and Sania Copeland. Moseley also welcomed five freshmen before the season, including D’Yanis Jimenez, who’s averaging 7.0 points and 1.6 assists in roughly 20.5 minutes of action per game. 

There’s a nucleus building in Madison, and Williams is arguably the most important part of it.

“The idea (is) that you gotta get one really good player that entices other people to come,” Moseley said of how she’s approached the rebuild. “The learning curve piece is more just staying the course and understanding that it’s a little bit slower of a build, that you’re not going to necessarily have your pick. But at the same time, you have to really get kids who are willing to come be a part of something bigger than themselves, and believe if we put this together, what we can become without seeing the history of it already done for years and years.”

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In Moseley’s first season (2021-22), the Badgers finished 8-21 and 5-13 in the Big Ten; last year, they finished 11-20 and 6-12 in the conference; this season, they’re also 6-12 in conference play but 13-15 overall.

If they can upset Penn State Thursday night after already beating the Lady Lions earlier this season, it would send a signal that although it’s been a bumpy road, Moseley’s process is starting to pay dividends.

“I think for this group, that is definitely a huge step in the right direction,” she said of the season so far. “To have a player of Serah’s stature and caliber as an anchor for us for the next two years and then what that could lead to with recruiting, I do feel optimistic that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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