Falcons show improvement during regular season
February 15, 2007
The UW-River Falls men’s basketball regular season drew to a close this week with the team’s 80-63 loss to UW-La Crosse, and is now looking forward to the WIAC tournament playoffs.
Under head coach Jeff Berkhof, the Falcons are 10-15 overall, a great improvement over the 6-19 finish they had for the 2005-06 season. After being an assistant coach for Rick Bowen for the past 12 years, Berkhof took over the team this season when Bowen became the full-time athletic director.
Berkhof had his work cut out for him with only two returning starters, juniors Ryan Thompson and Scott Kelly. But freshmen Jontae Koonkew and Nate Robertson, and transfer student Courtney Davis stepped into starting roles and excelled. Sophomores Erik Olson and Jesse Elling and juniors Cory Rondeau and Tim Pearson have contributed in non starting roles.
Uwrf began the season on Nov.17 at the Bethel Tip-Off Tournament. Playing William Penn, the Falcons got off to a good start with a 99-91 victory. Thompson led the way with 22 points, and Koonkaew scored 20 points in his first collegiate game.
After consecutive losses to Bethel and Macalester, the Falcons played their first WIAC game against UW-Superior on Nov. 29 and were again victorious with a final score of 90-65. Davis came through with 25 points, his highest total of the season.
At UW-Eau Claire the following week, the Falcons lost a heartbreaker 63-62 after a Blugolds layup with two seconds left in the game. They lost a similarly close game three days later to UW-Platteville 70-66. Robertson got a double-double in that game, with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Falcons didn’t play another conference game for nearly a month, until a Jan. 6 game against UW-Whitewater, suffering yet another tough loss with a score of 91-86. The Falcons were leading when a technical foul on the bench with 0.4 seconds left allowed Warhawks to tie the game with 2 free throws and eventually win in overtime.
The Falcons came back strong in the next game against UW-Stout, winning 76-62, led by a 20-point performance by Koonkaew.
UWRF lost to UW-Oshkosh four days later, but followed that up with a victory over UW-La Crosse 81-70, despite being without leading scorer Robertson due to injury. With the win over La Crosse, the Falcons improved to 8-9, but couldn’t get over the .500 hump and lost four of the next five including three in a row.
They pulled out a win Feb. 7 over UW-Eau Claire, finally winning a close game with a score of 68-66.
In the team’s last home game of the season on Feb. 10, the Falcons lost 93-72, falling to 10-14 overall.
The Falcons will finish the year in sixth or seventh place, but that doesn’t tell the full story of their season.
“At this point I feel like we have had some great wins this season and have really improved through out the season,” Olson said.
With three new starters and a new head coach the Falcons have had a respectable season with several very tough losses. In five conference games UWRF lost by five points or less.
Berkhof remains optimistic though.
“We will learn from those situations and hopefully that will help us in the future,” he said.
With the final regular season games still to be played this weekend, the Falcons playoff spot is still undecided. UWRF will either play the number two seed UW-Oshkosh or number three seed UW-La Crosse on Feb. 20 in the WIAC quarterfinals.
Berkhof said the Falcons are likely to be the underdogs.
“We will just focus on being special one night at a time and at the end of the week, hopefully we’ve done just that, three times,” Berkhof said.