Pointers head to Platteville Saturday before WIAC Tournament
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Battling for a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s basketball will head to UW-Platteville in the regular season-finale Saturday, Feb. 16, before it competes in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Tournament next week.
Coming off a win at UW-Whitewater (15-8, 4-8) Wednesday, Feb. 6, the Pointers (15-7, 7-5) had a chance to tie or take the lead with under one minute to play in a 77-70 loss at third-ranked UW-Oshkosh (22-1, 12-0) Saturday, Feb. 9, and head into the final week of the regular season looking to secure a home game in the WIAC Tournament.
“We have to do a lot more work,” said UWSP men’s basketball head coach Bob Semling. “Normally we’re not in this position, normally it’s coming down to the last week of the season and we’re in the hunt for a WIAC Regular Season Banner and maybe the one or two seed, and usually we have some significant wins against Regionally Ranked opponents.
“But it’s just one of those odd years, we’ve played the toughest strength of schedule, but we haven’t won those games,” he said.
UWSP was sixth in the Central Region, one spot ahead of Whitewater, in last week’s Regional Rankings that are used to determine NCAA Tournament at-large berths, and was on the road at Whitewater Wednesday night.
The Pointers fell behind 4-0 to start the game, before they went on a 16-0 run to take a 16-4 lead with 11:08 to play in the opening half, and carried a 36-20 lead into halftime.
UWSP extended its lead to 53-30 on a three-pointer from junior guard Aaron Knez with 11:15 to go in the game and went on to a 65-47 victory, as senior guard Drew Fredrickson was 6-of-8 from the field and finished with 15 points and five rebounds, senior guard Nate Dodge had 14 points, and Knez added eight points off the bench.
“We started well, and our bench was phenomenal,” said Semling, as it scored 22 points. “So those are really good signs, that we can be a better basketball team, and that we can make a run and do something special here at the end of the year.”
The Pointers were on the road Saturday night at reigning National Runner-up Oshkosh, which entered with a 20-game win streak and used a 14-2 run early to take a 14-6 lead on UWSP with 13:38 to go in the first half.
Dodge had a pair of three-pointers later in the half to power an 8-0 run that got the Pointers within 27-25 with 7:40 left in the half, and UWSP came back to take a 39-36 lead into halftime.
Oshkosh opened the second half on an 11-2 run to take a 47-41 lead with 16:37 to go, but the Pointers answered with a 16-7 run to go up 55-54 with 11:41 remaining, and the game stayed tight the rest of the way, as junior guard Ethan Bublitz knocked down a three-pointer to bring UWSP within 72-70 with 2:43 to play.
The Pointers had a chance to tie or take the lead three times over the next 1:45, but missed runner in the lane, had a turnover and a missed three-pointer, while Oshkosh scored on a layup with 36 seconds remaining to go up 74-70 and held on for a 77-70 win to claim the outright WIAC Title for the first time since 1977-78, after it last won a share of the Conference Title in 2001-02.
Dodge scored 17 points, Bublitz had 15 points, junior Brandon Spray finished with 14 points off the bench, and senior forward Canon O’Heron added 10 points for UWSP, which shot 1-for-11 from the field in the final eight minutes of the game.
“We went into Oshkosh well prepared, got the lead at halftime, and handled their surge in the first half,” said Semling, whose bench scored 26 points against Oshkosh. “We didn’t play well in the second half, but we did handle that well and came back and we got the lead, but then we couldn’t build the lead.”
The Pointers were set to play their final home game of the regular season against UW-Stout (6-17, 0-12) Wednesday, Feb. 13, before they close the regular season at UW-Platteville (14-9, 7-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, after Platteville won 61-60 at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse on a put-back dunk with 2.0 seconds left Jan. 19.
Entering the final week of the regular season, Oshkosh has wrapped up the top seed and a first-round bye in the WIAC Tournament, while UW-La Crosse (8-4) holds a one-game lead for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye over UWSP (7-5), UW-Eau Claire (7-5) and Platteville (7-5), with Whitewater (4-8) and UW-River Falls (3-9) potentially battling for the sixth and final spot in the Conference Tournament in their regular-season finale at Whitewater Feb. 16.
The WIAC Tournament will open with the first round at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, as the third seed will host the sixth seed, and the fourth seed will host the fifth seed.
The WIAC Tournament Semifinals are set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, with Oshkosh hosting the lowest remaining seed and the No. 2 seed hosting the other opening round winner, while an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be on the line in the WIAC Tournament Championship at the home of the highest remaining seed Saturday, Feb. 23.
“La Crosse is a game up on us and they have the tiebreaker against us, so we would have to win two, they would have to lose two, but we have the tiebreaker on Eau Claire,” said Semling. “But all that being said, we need to prove to ourselves that we can go win this one at home against Stout, and then go on the road and beat Platteville, so our guys have faith and they trust that we can go to La Crosse or to Oshkosh and win on the road in the WIAC Tournament.
“Because that’s what we would have to do to get the (automatic qualifier) and get into the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “But it’s going to be a fun week, I’m excited, and I think our guys are in a good place.”