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UWRF women’s basketball capture first WIAC title since 1989

February 24, 2016

The Falcons came up clutch in the biggest game of the season, taking down the UW-Oshkosh Titans 63-56 to capture their first regular season WIAC title in 27 years.

Both teams came into the game at 20-4 overall on the year and 11-2 in conference.  The Falcons won the first meeting on the road in early January, so the Titans came to Karges Center looking for revenge.

“Coming into the game we knew it was time for us to prove what we’ve worked on all offseason and regular season. Our regular season set us up perfectly to take the win,” Senior Richell Mehus said.

UWRF wasn’t about to drop a game with so much at stake. But the Titans came out strong, going on a quick 6-0 run in the first three minutes and looked like the more confident team.  The Falcons struck back, building a 13-2 run of their own to take a lead they held throughout the afternoon.

Brynn Liljander was huge for the Falcons, knocking down three three-pointers and controlling the offense against a strong UW-Oshkosh defense.  Her 13 points led all scorers in the first half, with the next closest Falcon Katie Messman tallying five points.

The real story of the first half was Oshkosh’s inaccurate shooting.  The Falcons switched up their defense constantly, switching between man-to-man, a 2-3 zone, and a 1-3-1 zone.  The Titans seemed out of rhythm the entire first half, and constantly settled for contested three-pointers.  This led UW-Oshkosh to shoot 5-33 in the first half and go 0-15 on threes.

A 19-7 advantage in the second quarter gave the Falcons a 34-17 lead heading into halftime. A lead of that magnitude is difficult to hold against a strong team like UW-Oshkosh, and the Titans got right back into the game.  Oshkosh guard Eliza Campbell hit a three-pointer less than a minute into the second half to bring some life back into the Titan’s offense.

Forward Taylor Karge began to assert her dominance in the third quarter, mixing strong post moves with mid-range jump shots.  The offensive production began to drop off for the rest of the Falcons and the Titans grabbed a 19-13 run in the third quarter to chip away at the Falcon lead.

Mehus said, “All year we’ve focused on trusting in what we’re running and not trying to individually take over the game, but do it as a team.”

Karge continued her streak in the fourth quarter, proving why she’s the team’s leading scorer. Six points out of the gate in the final quarter put the Falcons up 16 points with only seven minutes remaining. A strong Titan comeback was thwarted by clutch free throws from Brynn Liljander and Richell Mehus. The Falcons managed to claim their first conference title since 1988-1989, and their first under Head Coach Cindy Holbrook.

“I’m so excited that we set a goal and achieved what we sought out to do in the regular season.  And hosting the WIAC tournament allows us to control what we need to do,” Holbrook said.

All 685 fans in attendance were amazed by the battle they witnessed, but in the end UWRF showed the poise and heart they needed to come out on top. Fans stormed the court after the final buzzer, and every Falcon got a chance to cut down the nets. The biggest reaction came when Holbrook got the chance to cut down an entire net of her own.

“The fans and the atmosphere made a big difference in the game.  It changes the game and shortens the other team’s runs.  The student section was huge and stood almost the entire game,” Holbrook said.

With the win the Falcons now rest atop the WIAC standings as champs at 11-2 in conference and 21-4 overall.  The number 13 ranked Falcons next will host a WIAC tournament semi-final game at Karges Center as the number one seed and the favorite.

Holbrook said, “It won’t feel too strange being the top seed because we still prepare the same to win every game. It mostly depends on what team comes to play on a given day because there’s only about a four point gap between the top and bottom teams in this tournament.”

Mehus added, “It doesn’t matter if you’re the top team or the last team, you need to win the game otherwise your seed doesn’t matter.

UWRF will host the fifth seed UW-Eau Claire Blugolds in the semifinals. The Falcons look to make history with a win as they stand at 0-5 all-time in the semi-final match-up. The game is set for Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.

The whole Falcon women’s basketball team hopes to see the fans as enthusiastic as playoff time approaches.  If the fans can add the extra boost like they did on Saturday, there’s no guessing how far this team can go.