Historic UWRF women’s basketball season ends with loss to St. Thomas
March 10, 2016
The UWRF women’s basketball team advanced as far in the NCAA tournament as they ever have in the program’s history, but ultimately fell to St. Thomas 46-67 Saturday night at the Karges Center.
UWRF hosted the first two rounds of the Division III NCAA tournament and were dominant in their first round victory on Friday, March 4. Behind an enthusiastic home crowd, the Falcons crushed the Wheaton College Thunder 81-56 to advance to the second round.
The Falcons were firing on all cylinders Friday night, shooting 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from the three point line. Katie Messman knocked down three three-pointers and Brynn Liljander added 13 points and three assists to build a 44-26 halftime lead. A 20-9 Falcon run in the second quarter put them firmly in the driver’s seat entering the third quarter.
Head Coach Cindy Holbrook said, “We worked the ball a lot better on Friday and kept the offense moving. When we don’t stall our offense really comes together.”
Wheaton fought back in the third by outscoring UWRF 21-20 in the quarter. But Kate Theisen and Taylor Karge became the focal point of the offense in the third, with both mixing post moves and strong finishes at the basket. Theisen finished the night with a game-high 21 points on 70 percent shooting, while Karge added 10 of her 12 points in the second half.
“Our shooters hit some big shots for us early which really stretched the defense. That helped us play our strong inside-outside game. They couldn’t stop our shooters and our post players at the same time,” Karge said.
The Thunder were shut down by the Falcons in crunch time, and managed only nine points in the entire fourth quarter. The Falcons continued to play their brand of basketball and came out on top by 25 points in a battle of 22-5 teams.
St. Thomas had to come from twelve points down in the closing minutes of their opening round matchup, but eventually prevailed over Loras by eight points in overtime. The Tommies only dropped three games on the season, but knew they’d be in for a tough matchup in a hostile gym for their second round game versus UWRF.
Holbrook said, “To get to host an NCAA playoff game was a huge deal and the support for our team was fantastic down the final stretch of the season. It made it a lot more fun for the players.”
The Falcons came out strong for a second straight game, taking a 16-13 lead into the second quarter. Richell Mehus and Taylor Karge both added two field goals apiece to put the eighth ranked Tommies on their heels.
But St. Thomas put together a run in the second and third quarters that would leave no doubt in what team would move on to the next round. The Tommies outscored the Falcons 40-14 in the second and third quarters to go up 53-30 entering the final quarter.
“St. Thomas made us stall the ball and made us tentative to pass the basketball. It also was a much more physical game than it should’ve been, which never works in our favor,” Holbrook said.
St. Thomas didn’t shoot lights out, but did manage to hold the Falcons to only 37 percent shooting on the night. A mediocre 44 percent free throw percentage didn’t help matters for the undersized Falcons.
6’3 Junior Kaitlin Langer dominated in the post for the Tommies, shooting 11-19 and knocking down all six of her shots in the second half to add 25 points to her 12 rebounds. The Tommies took 10 more shots than the Falcons and forced 14 turnovers to break down UWRF’s offense.
“She is just a really good player in all aspects of the game. She was finishing really well against us and went hard to the offensive boards,” Karge said.
No Falcon players scored in double figures, with three starters tallying nine points and Mehus adding nine rebounds. It was a disappointing ending to a historic season, where the 2015-2016 Falcons tied the school record of 23 wins that were last totaled in the 1988-1989 season.
Mehus said, “We had a complete turnaround from last year and so all the hard work and frustration from the previous year’s made it all worth it.”
“This team truly stuck together all season long, and didn’t drop a single game against a team below our level. It was a fantastic season beginning to end, with the Florida trip and conference championship making it especially memorable,” Holbrook said.
The Falcons lose leader Richell Mehus for next season but bring back their other four starters and all of their reserves. Mehus said she has high expectations for next year’s Falcons, “I think this team can accomplish anything they want to. They just need to be all in and all together and they will accomplish whatever they set their minds to.”
Falcon players and coaches said they were especially thankful for all the support they received from fans during such a memorable season. Hopefully next year they can pack Karges again and give the 56 year-old building a proper sendoff with another historic season.