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Basketball team seeks revenge against Whitewater

February 13, 2007

If Saturday’s rematch between the Falcons men’s basketball team and UW-Whitewater is anywhere near as exciting as the Jan. 6 meeting between the two teams, those at UW-River Falls will be talking about the game for weeks.

Over a month later, people are still trying to figure out how the last game ended up going into overtime, ending with a 91-86 loss for the Falcons.

“People have referred to it as just being unbelievable and can’t understand what happened,” Falcons head coach Jeff Berkhof said.

With 0.4 seconds left in the game, the Falcons held a 71-69 lead. Before Whitewater put the ball in play to attempt a miracle shot, a technical foul was assessed to the Falcons. Whitewater’s Anthony Mlachnik, who finished the game with a game-high 22 points, made the two technical free throws to force the game into overtime.

“It’s very hard to explain,” Berkhof said. “Basically, it’s a situation where we had some miscommunication on our part. The officials at that time said they were going to assess us a technical foul for having a guy leave the floor during the course of action.”

Before the play began, the Falcons had six players on the court. After junior forward Scott Kelly realized this, he left the floor, but Berkhof was still under the assumption that too many players were on the court. This led to some confusion in which Berkhof tried to get Falcons guard Ryan Thompson off the court. Amidst the confusion the officials gave UWRF a technical foul.

“We’ve been told that that is not a reason to give a technical foul,” Berkhof said. “We probably got a game taken from us.”

The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) conference office told Berkhof that the Falcons were assessed a technical foul that should not have been given, and even Whitewater head coach Pat Miller agrees that the wrong call was made.

“I felt bad for [Berkhof]; I felt bad for his team,” Miller said. “I think that’s a game they certainly had in their hands and it’s unfortunate. That’s just the way the game goes. We’ve lost some like that and won some like that; it usually balances out.”

Berkhof and Miller are close friends. The two coaches are very similar in a lot of ways.

“We do have a lot in common,” Miller said. “We were assistants for a long time, and we both coached women’s golf at points in our career when we didn’t have extensive golf backgrounds. Now, getting head coaching jobs from very, very experienced and well-respected, established coaches. There are a lot of similarities, and he’s done a great job up there this year.”

Berkhof said he enjoys competing against Miller, who led UW-Whitewater to a WIAC conference championship last year.

“It’s fun to play against him,” Berkhof said. “It would have been nice to be 1-0 against him, but now we’re 0-1 and we have to get it back to .500 at our place on Saturday.”

The biggest difference between this game and the last meeting may be the absence of Whitewater forward Rob Perry. Perry, who was leading Whitewater in scoring this year with 12.6 points per game, was shut down for the season after the team’s loss on Jan. 10, due to a preexisting injury involving a bone surface abnormality. Losing Perry has been part of the reason Whitewater is having a disappointing season after being picked as the preseason favorite to win the WIAC title by the league’s sports information directors.

“One of the problems we’ve had this year is we don’t have a go-to guy per se, and [Perry] was probably as close as we had,” Miller said.

Perry, who scored 18 points against UWRF on Jan. 6, is known for his strength and physical play.

“The last two years I’ve guarded him and he’s been an inside force,” Falcons forward Tim Pearson said. “He’s been very consistent. He’s a very strong rebounder, and they’re definitely going to miss him for this next game.”

Pearson, who began the season as a starter, is now back in the starting lineup for the Falcons after being on the bench for eleven straight games.

“Tim’s played great as of late, providing great leadership, knocking down shots, and he’s one of our better rebounders,” Berkhof said. “I really like what Tim’s doing for us. Tim’s back in that starting role, and he’s played great since, so I think Tim’s probably there to stay the rest of the year.”

Without any seniors on the team, Pearson is one of the juniors that has accepted a leadership role on the team. Fellow junior Ryan Thompson leads the pregame warm-ups, and didn’t find the shift into leadership hard at all.

“It wasn’t too difficult because there are so many freshmen, and freshmen are looking for people to lean on, so it was an easy situation to step in and lead,” Thompson said.

One of those freshmen is Thompson’s pregame warm-up partner, Jontae Koonkaew, who has allowed Thompson to slide over to an off-guard position on some possessions.

“I think last year we just didn’t have any other point guards and now Jontae’s really stepping up and playing well,” Thompson said.

Saturday’s rematch between UW-Whitewater and UWRF is also Alumni Day, a setting that Berkhof said the Falcons usually play pretty well in. After the debacle during the last meeting, Berkhof said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the technical foul that cost UWRF a win on Jan. 6, and he said he wouldn’t feel bad if a controversial call went the Falcons’ way to even up the season series with Whitewater.

“I’d love to see that happen,” Berkhof said. “Whatever it takes to get the W. Hopefully we’re up enough that it doesn’t come to that, but we take Ws any way we can.”