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With big victory over Whitewater, Falcons set for NCAA tournament

February 28, 2012

They say the third time is the charm. Just ask the UW-River Falls men’s basketball team.

Although it may have taken the team until the third try this season to beat UW-Whitewater, the Falcons made sure to beat the No. 8 ranked team in the country when it counted: in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Championship game.

With the victory comes an even sweeter reward: For the first time in the program’s history, the Falcons will host the first two rounds of the Division III NCAA Tournament. While Tom Petty said that the “waiting is the hardest part,” this wait may be well worth it.

The Falcons continue their historic run as they host the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Edgewood College at 8 p.m. Friday at the Karges Center. The team earned the WIAC’s automatic berth to the tournament by defeating the No. 1 seed, UW-Whitewater, 64-58 in the WIAC Championship game on Sunday.

This marked the first time in school history when the team has won the WIAC Tournament. The Falcons came into the tournament as the No. 2 seed.

The Falcons return to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history. The last time the Falcons were in the final field of 64 was last season, but the Falcons lost to Illinois Wesleyan in the first round, 83-76.

Jeff Berkhof, who is in his sixth season as head coach at UW-River Falls, said that last year’s experience will help this year’s squad as it prepares to take on Edgewood.

“Getting that experience last year was great, but now this year with the group of kids we have, we are looking to go out there and do something,” said Berkhof. “With the group that we have and with the way we are playing right now, there is no reason why we can’t go far.”

The Falcons will not have to go far, in terms of travelling, as UW-River Falls will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in the Karges Center, a tough place for opposing teams. The Falcons hold a 10-1 record at the Karges Center this year. Their only loss at home was on the final day of the regular season in a 55-53 loss to UW-Whitewater on Feb. 18.

However, Berkhof said he knows that with the strength and leadership of his team, the Falcons are in a position that enables success.

“We have four seniors that work extremely well together,” Berkhof said. “Brian (Kimble) at the point is a great leader for our team. Aaron Anderson is a great presence on the outside. Wade Guerin is our big guy inside, and Shane Manor is very versatile and brings a lot to out team. Our other starter, Ollie White, has also been a big contributor to our success.”

Manor leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.5 points per game. He was just named to the All-WIAC First Team for the second consecutive year. Manor also leads the team with 31 steals and 17 blocks.  Guerin, who earned honorable mention to the All-WIAC team, leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.7 per game. He also averages 10 points per game.

All Falcons starters landed on one of the All-WIAC teams. Manor was the lone first team selection, however Guerin, Anderson, Kimble and White all earned honorable mention. Anderson was also named to the All-Sportsmanship Team.

UWRF will take on Edgewood College for the fifth time in school history. The all-time series between the two schools is knotted up at 2-2. Edgewood, which is located in Madison, comes to the Karges Center with a 22-6 record. The Eagles won the Northern Athletics Conference playoff title with an 80-72 win over Lakeland College to earn the conference’s automatic berth. Seniors Kent Fauote and Ben Wiseniewski lead the Eagles in scoring, averaging 15.6 points per game. Edgewood has also played Whitewater. The Eagles fell to the Warhawks by a score of 79-51.

However, both Berkhof and Guerin said that while the opponent may change, the game plan will remain the same.

“We will continue to do what we’ve been doing all season long, since day one back in October,” Guerin said. “We will be watching a lot of film on Edgewood, practicing hard and with a purpose, and continue to get stronger in the weight room.”

Teammate White agreed.

“We need to take it one practice at a time, and enjoy the experience,” he said.

The Falcons come into the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 17 in Sunday’s D3Hoops.com poll. Edgewood is not ranked in the top 25, although it did receive eight votes to be mentioned as contenders to the Top 25. The D3hoops.com Top 25 is voted on by a panel of 25 coaches, sports information directors and media members from across the country, and is published weekly.

While the Falcons may be a part of history in the making, Guerin said the run was established from the very beginning.

“This team is special because we all bought into the system from Day One,” he said. “We knew if we worked hard and stuck together that we would be where we are now. Everyone on this team wants to win a National Championship more than anything in the world.”

On Friday, the quest for the national title will begin.

Comments

John on 28 Feb 2012: GO FALCONS!!!