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Men’s basketball faces critical upcoming games

February 3, 2012

The UW-River Falls men’s basketball team faces a critical stretch of upcoming games beginning with a 5 p.m. tilt at UW-Eau Claire on Feb. 4.

The Falcons are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the WIAC with UW-Whitewater and UW-Stevens Point, according to wiacsports.com. All three teams have conference records of 9-2.

Helping put the Falcons in that position, was a Jan. 21 overtime road win over nationally ranked UW-Stevens Point at Stevens Point. The win snapped a 29-game home win streak for the Pointers. It also gave the Falcons a season sweep of UWSP.

“We executed our game plan and stayed mentally strong throughout the game. It is a tough place to play and we played solid basketball,” Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said about the victory.

A big part of that win was the play of senior forward Shane Manor, who contributed 26 points including going 14-15 from the free throw line. Earlier that week, Manor had a career-high 31 points in a loss at UWSuperior. Manor’s play that week earned him a spot on the D3hoops.com Team of the Week. He was also named the WIAC Basketball Athlete of the Week.

It was the second straight week that a UWRiver Falls Falcon had been named Athlete of the Week by the WIAC. In the previous week, junior forward Ollie White, won the award for his role in two Falcon victories. Another one of the reasons for the team’s success has been their solid play on the road in conference games. The team is 4-2 this year in the WIAC when playing away from the Karges Center.

“It takes a different mindset to play well on the road,” said Berkhof. “It is us against everybody here. We have to be more defensive- minded and we have to take care of the basketball,” said Berkhof.

Berkhof said that the team’s main goal at this point is to win the regular season championship. To do that, the Falcons must perform well in their final five conference games.

Among those five conference games, three of them are at home where the Falcons are currently undefeated this year at 7-0. The Feb. 18 season finale against Whitewater in the Karges Center could decide the WIAC regular season title.

While junior forward Ollie White likes the competitive nature of the team, he also said the team can progress daily.

“We can improve in all areas. We are just trying to get a little better every day,” said the Minnetrista, Minn., native.

Berkhof made concurred that the team could improve in many areas. “We have a ways to go with our team defense and our half-court offense. We have to execute in the half-court. The key to winning is playing great team defense.”

Berkhof also added that preparation is crucial and that it helps to have an experienced squad.

Another team goal is to win the WIAC tournament. The tournament begins Feb. 22 and the winner receives an automatic invitation to the Division III NCAA Tournament.