UW-Whitewater Warhawks’ title bid falls short
Sunday afternoon, the Falcons were too busy cutting down nets to think about it.
After a solid first half, Whitewater was outscored 38-24 in the second to see its hopes of winning both the WIAC regular-season and tournament titles dashed with a 64-58 loss to River Falls in the WIAC Tournament title game in the Kachel Gym.
While River Falls celebrated its automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament and its first WIAC Tournament title by jubilantly cutting down the nets, the Warhawks—ranked No. 1 in their region going into the postseason—can only wait to see if their seeding will be affected by Sunday’s hiccup.
The tournament field will be announced at 11 a.m. today.
“I still believe we should be the one seed in the West Region,” Whitewater coach Pat Miller said. “Whether that will happen or not is another thing, but I think we’ve played ourselves into that position.”
Whitewater (23-4) played itself into the WIAC Tournament’s top seed by coming from a game down to two teams with only two games left to win the regular-season title. The Warhawks beat fifth-seeded UW-La Crosse in Friday’s semifinals and drained six three-pointers to grab a 34-26-halftime lead over second-seeded River Falls in the title game.
But the Falcons (20-7) were flying high the second half.
Senior center Wade Guerin went to work both inside and outside to score 11 of his game-high 18 points during an extended 27-9 River Falls run to open the second half. By the time River Falls’ Colin Ute made one of two free throws with 9:06 left, the Falcons had turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a 53-43 lead.
“I think they just came out and punched us in the mouth,” said sophomore guard Cody Overgaard, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half. “It’s kind of like a boxing match. We just didn’t take the punch very well, and they just kept punching us.”
That boxing analogy can particularly extend to the interior play, where River Falls won the battles all afternoon.
The Falcons outrebounded the Warhawks, 32-23. More important, they had bodies all over senior forward Chris Davis. Whitewater’s WIAC Player of the Year candidate finished with 12 points, 11 below his regular-season average, and six rebounds before fouling out with 25.3 seconds left.
Other Warhawks made shots in the first half, but things dried up in the second when Whitewater went just
7-of-19 from the field.
“That’s been our issue the whole year,” Miller said. “We need Alex Merge to hit shots, we need Luke Knoble to hit shots. When we don’t do that, it makes it very difficult for us, because they can play Chris with one-and-a-half or even two guys, and that makes it tough for him.”
Still, Whitewater rallied, going on an 11-2 run to get within 55-54 after a pressing defense forced a turnover and Merge found Eric Bryson for an easy lay-up with 3:07 to play.
Unfortunately for the War- hawks, River Falls’ leading scorer, senior forward Shane Manor, suddenly came to life. Held without a field goal to that point, Manor hit a tough step back jumper with one second on the shot clock to push the lead to 57-54.
After Knoble’s inside bucket cut it back to one, Manor hit an even tougher shot, pushing a contested one-hander in the lane through the basket for a 59-56 lead with 44 seconds to play.
“That’s why he’s a preseason All-American,” Miller said. “That’s why they’re where they’re at because he can make those plays.”
With 29.7 seconds to go and down three, Whitewater freshman point guard Quarrel Young was fouled on a drive to the basket. Young missed both free throws, but the rebound was tapped out to Davis. Davis tried to drive the baseline, but a River Falls defender held his ground and drew a charge for Davis’ fifth foul.
After that, the Falcons made 5 of 6 free throws to seal the title.
“We got back to within (three) and had the ball in our best player’s hands and just weren’t able to make a play,” Miller said. “I was proud the way our guys battled back.”
RIVER FALLS 64, WHITEWATER 58
River Falls (64)—Manor, 2-4-8; Anderson, 2-0-5; Kimble, 4-2-13; White, 3-2-8; Guerin, 7-3-18; Utke, 1-1-3; Peterson, 2-3-9. Totals: 21-15-64.
Whitewater (58)—Merg, 3-0-7; Odegaard, 5-0-12; Knoble, 2-2-6; Bryson, 1-2-4; Davis, 3-4-12; Young, 3-0-6; Edmunds, 1-3-5; Burns, 2-0-6. Totals: 20-11-56.
UW-River Falls 26 38—64
UW-Whitewater 34 24—58
Three-point goals—River Falls 7 (Kimble 3, Peterson 2, Guerin, Anderson), Whitewater 7 (Burns 2, Davis 2, Odegaard 2, Merg). Rebounds—River Falls 32 (Guerin 9), Whitewater 23 (Davis 6). Free throws missed—River Falls 8, Whitewater 6. Total fouls—River Falls 19, Whitewater 21. Fouled out—White, Davis.