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Women’s basketball secures final seed in WIAC playoffs with Platteville win

February 22, 2017

The Falcons women’s basketball team closed out Karges Center in dramatic fashion, taking down UW-Platteville 80-61 and securing the final seed in the WIAC playoffs on Saturday.

The game had greater implications than most regular season finales. UW-River Falls had to win and get help from a UW-Stout loss to receive the sixth seed in the WIAC playoffs and continue its season beyond the weekend.

UWRF came out on fire to start the game, knocking down shot after shot to drop 28 points and take a 13-point lead into the second quarter.

Taylor Karge was a key component for the Falcons, scoring the first six points of the game to set the tempo for the rest of the afternoon.

Karge’s contribution was big beyond her 22 points and 11 rebounds. Karge eclipsed 1,000 points in the game, putting her on a list of some of the greatest scorers in UWRF history.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment, because we’ve only had about 12 or 13 players who have broken the 1,000-point career mark here. And to be one of that group in your junior year is pretty amazing,” Head Coach Cindy Holbrook said.

Karge also reached over 100 blocks in the game, good enough for third on the all-time list and within striking distance of breaking the record next season.

“To end the [regular] season like that, and for it happen on the same night she did the scoring record, really shows she can play on both ends [of the floor],” Holbrook said.

The Falcons came out after halftime on a tear, going on a 20-5 run to put the game out of reach for the Pioneers. UWRF has struggled with shooting the ball at times throughout the season, but Saturday wasn’t one of those nights.

“It was a stretch where we were taking care of the basketball, and we put a lot of points on the board really quick when we’re knocking down our shots. It was really great to see them play like that in the third quarter because we’ve struggled with that,” Holbrook said.

But beyond shooting the ball well, the Falcons stepped up their defensive intensity to another level. They held the Pioneers to only 24 percent shooting on 68 attempts, while the Falcons shot 42 percent on 65 attempts.

“We strive on stopping people on defense, and we work on that a lot in practice. We struggled on that a little bit during the middle of the season, but it’s good to see we could do it for 40 minutes,” senior guard Hannah Pignato said.

With the win, UWRF moves to 8-17 on the season and 3-11 in conference. The Falcons have had to face adversity all season, but seem to finally be coming into their own as the WIAC playoffs begin.

“The most difficult thing was coming off last year and the conference championship. We lost a lot of bench players, but we’re finding our own again and building team chemistry. It took us a bit to find that right mix and work through things that we weren’t expecting to happen, but I think we’ve peaked at the right time,” Pignato said.

A season-ending injury to all-conference guard Brynn Liljander early in the season and multiple players from last year’s team not returning have forced many new players to step up into important roles.

“Kids have had to take on roles we weren’t expecting and have had to play out of position, but they’ve responded as well as they could. Taylor Paulsrud and Crystal Pearson have learned a lot in their first year in the program and played a bigger role than a first-year kid typically does, but they’ve handled it beautifully,” Holbrook said.

Pignato has also had an increased role, averaging only a few points a game to now being a key part of the offense. Her 14 points against Platteville were a big part of the Falcons win.

“It’s always good to see different people step up different nights and have a bunch of people that can contribute. I really like to see how far our team has come and it’s good to see we’ve found ways to close games out,” Pignato said.

The Falcons now focus their attention on the No. 3 seed in the WIAC tournament, UW-Stevens Point. UWRF lost in both meetings against the Pointers this season by double digits.

“We need to have toughness and come out swinging [against Point]. We didn’t respond the first two times and we need to put 40 minutes together and respond to runs,” Holbrook said.

The Falcons know they will be underdogs and probably overlooked in the WIAC tournament. But Pignato says that can also work in the team’s favor.

“We have nothing to lose now, and it’s a whole new season. We just need to play like we have been and bring the confidence and energy we had on Saturday,” Pignato said.

UWRF managed to pull off the upset on Wednesday night, knocking off the Pointers 47-43 on the road. They outscored Point 21 to 13 in the fourth quarter after only scoring 13 points in the first half.

Kate Theisen had a huge game for the Falcons, scoring 16 points and shooting 75 percent from the free throw line. Taylor Paulsrud also added 12 points and the game-winning layup with only four seconds remaining.

The Falcons now travel to Oshkosh to take on the Titans in the WIAC semifinals on Friday.