UWSP’s season ends with loss in WIAC Tournament opener
The defending NCAA Division III National Champion University
of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s basketball team had its season come to
an end with a loss at UW-Eau Claire in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic
Conference (WIAC) Tournament Quarterfinals Wednesday, Feb. 24.
The Pointers (14-12, 7-7) built a 44-38 lead with 14:01 to
go in the second half, but Eau Claire (17-9, 9-5) answered with a 14-0 run to
go up 52-44 with 10:49 left and held on in the closing minutes for a 72-66 win
to end UWSP’s season.
“To come in here and battle them even for 20 minutes, and
then to win the first five minutes of the second half, I thought we were in a
really good place,” said UWSP men’s basketball head coach Bob Semling. “But
give them credit, offensively they took it to another level.
“They took advantage of us, and they were scoring sometimes
almost every time down the court, every five possessions (out of five),” he said. “And it got
away from us.”
The Pointers closed the regular season Saturday, Feb. 20, at
UW-La Crosse (16-9, 10-4), which was looking to clinch at least a share of its
first WIAC Title in 51 years with a win.
UWSP, which won at home over La Crosse 69-67 Jan. 23, was
within 22-17 with 6:23 left in the first half Saturday night, when La Crosse
went on a 15-3 run to go up 37-20 with 34 seconds to go in the first half, and
carried a 37-22 lead into halftime.
The Pointers were down 47-34 with 9:43 remaining in the
second half, when they went on a 12-1 run to pull within 48-46 with 3:27 to go.
UWSP used a pair of free throws from senior guard/forward
Sean McGann to tie the game at 51-51 with 1:56 to go, and following a
three-point play from La Crosse junior guard Devin Yurk and a pair of free
throws from senior guard Stephen Pelkofer, trailed 54-53 with 12 seconds left
after La Crosse missed a jumper.
Pelkofer brought the ball past midcourt, and after he drove
toward the basket and was cut off, he took a step back, stumbled, and passed
the ball to sophomore guard Luke Zuiker.
As Zuiker released a three-pointer that went in, Pelkofer
was whistled for a travel with 4.3 seconds left, and La Crosse knocked down a
free throw and held on for a 55-53 win to claim the WIAC Regular Season Title outright
and the top seed in the WIAC Tournament.
“We’ll be talking about that one for a while, because it’s a
tough call to end a game,” said Semling. “Stephen did a great job of getting
the pass off before he picked up his pivot foot, because he did lose his
balance, there was a little contact, but the game was very physical the whole
game long, and so I was not surprised that there was going to be a hand-check
or some contact there.
“He lost his balance, but he made a tremendous effort to
make a step-back move, and when you go back and look at it in slow motion, he
definitely gets the pass off,” he said. “But the official thought it looked
awkward and made the call, but it just so happens that not only did he get the
ball off, but he finds Luke Zuiker on the back side and he buries a three.”
Pelkofer finished with 18 points and four assists, Bublitz
had 14 points and six rebounds and McGann added 10 points and 11 rebounds in
the loss, which left the Pointers as the sixth seed in the WIAC Tournament and
sent them to third-seeded Eau Claire for the WIAC Tournament Quarterfinals
“I’m proud of how we came back against La Crosse and how we
tied that game and had a chance to win it,” said Semling. “But this time of the
year, you have to be consistent, and if you have stretches where you’re really
bad like that (at the end of the first half), it’s going to be very difficult.”
After dropping the WIAC regular season opener at Eau Claire
63-59 Jan. 6 and then winning at home against Eau Claire 74-63 Feb. 13, the
Pointers looked to extend their season at Eau Claire Wednesday.
UWSP held a 14-13 lead with 8:38 remaining in the first half
when Eau Claire went on a 16-6 run to open up a 29-20 lead with 2:44 to go in
the half, but Pelkofer hit a three-pointer and Zuiker followed with
back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game at 29-29 at halftime.
The Pointers extended the run to 18-2 to build a 38-31 lead
with 17:19 to play in the second half, but Eau Claire used a 21-6 spurt to take
a 52-44 lead with 10:49 remaining behind 10 points from junior guard Jack
Martinek and seven points from sophomore guard and former Stevens Point Area
Senior High School (SPASH) standout George Diekelman.
UWSP answered with a three-pointer from Bublitz and a jumper
from McGann to make it 52-49 with 9:38 left and stayed close until the final
minutes, as Pelkofer hit a three-pointer to pull the Pointers within two at
63-61 with 3:25 to go.
However, UWSP didn’t have another basket from the field and
Eau Claire scored its final nine points at the free throw line to close out a
72-66 win that ended the Pointers’ season.
Fourth-seeded UW-River Falls (16-10, 9-5) won 80-66 at home
over fifth-seeded UW-Whitewater (16-10, 7-7) in the other WIAC Quarterfinal Wednesday
and will travel to play at La Crosse Friday, Feb. 26, while Eau Claire will
play at second-seeded UW-Oshkosh (16-9, 9-5) in the other WIAC Semifinal, with
the winners to meet in the WIAC Tournament Championship at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb.
28, with an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament on the line.
Martinek shot 9-of-12 from the field and had 26 points and
Diekelman had 19 points and six rebounds to lead Eau Claire against UWSP, while
Bublitz finished with 20 points and six rebounds, McGann had 17 points and
Pelkofer added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Pointers.
“When they went up eight and we came back and tied that
game, that said a lot about our young men,” said Semling. “It said a lot about our
seniors, and we have a lot to be proud of.
“It was a hard year, it was a tough season,” said Semling.
“But these guys, in this game, showed that there was never any quit in them and
they still were trying to become a better basketball team. They were on a
mission to try to do that all year, and I had a blast coaching them.”