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Men’s basketball treasures playing at U.S. Bank Stadium

December 12, 2018

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls Men’s basketball team played in the first ever basketball game at U.S. Bank Stadium in an 85-70 loss to St. Thomas on Friday, November 30th. Despite traveling to Minneapolis and suffering a defeat, the Falcons and UWRF still look at the experience as favorable behind all of the work it took to put together this U.S. Bank Stadium Classic event.

UWRF Director of Athletics Crystal Lanning said, “I think for us it was a chance for us to be exposed on a grand scale, we don’t often get those opportunities and we wanted to take full advantage. It was a great opportunity to showcase our men’s basketball program.”

Lanning believes that the reason why UWRF was chosen to be a part of the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic was chiefly due to scheduling. “We had an existing game on the schedule with St. Thomas and we play them most years,” Lanning said. “Luck played a lot of it.”

She also contends that the rivalry between the two schools may also have been another reason why UWRF was one of six teams selected to play in this event as well as being the only school from the State of Wisconsin.

Lanning spent the previous six months prior to the event putting together the planning for the Men’s basketball team to play U.S. Bank Stadium. “We were first notified late spring into the early summer that the event was going to be taking place and the communication really started with St. Thomas executing the contract with U.S. Bank Stadium,” Lanning said. “It was kind of an under the table type thing until the contract was finalized.”

In late July and into early August, the first round of publicity for the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic began with press releases. Lanning looked to boost ticket sales for UWRF, with the event being strongly attended by Falcon alumni. The UWRF Cheerleading Team and members of the Falcons Women’s basketball team, including senior Madelyn O’Brien, were also in attendance. Outside of a couple additional buses to take personnel and fans to the game, there were no additional expenses on behalf of the UW-River Falls.

Discussing the game itself, Lanning said, “I think the score didn’t reflect the back and forth of the game, there was 51 fouls called during the game and a lot of hand checking under the basket that we are not used to that style of play.”

Minneapolis-native Julian Jackson scored 17 points to go with eight rebounds as senior Austin Heidecker scored 15 points and tallied 17 rebounds. The Falcons leading scorer Matt Keller, starter Clay Siefert, and sophomore Jalen Greenlee went a combined 3-of-28 from the field as the team shot a collective 31.3 percent on the night of he game.

UWRF Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jeff Berkhof spoke highly of the Tommies, saying, “Coach Tauer has done a great job at St. Thomas.  He really gets his teams to play unselfishly on offense and are always a challenge to defend.  We both coach at our alma mater’s and about the same age so we have become friends of the years with are teams playing each other every year.”

Coach Berkhof attempted to get his team adjusted from playing at Don Page Arena to U.S. Bank Stadium by focusing his team to issues solely on the court. The team practice at the stadium the day before and acclimated to the surroundings.

Coach Berkhof believes the team can take away lessons from the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic, saying, “With every game we play, we look at what we can learn about our team and what areas we need to improve in. St. Thomas did a good job defensively against us, so we need to continue to get better with our half-court offense and get our shooters more open looks.  Defensively we need to communicate better and limit our opponents transition baskets.”

When asked about what accounted for the discrepancy between the field goal percentages for the Falcons and the Tommies, Coach Berkhoff declined to comment.