UW-Whitewater Advances to WIAC Tourney Title Game

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Eau Claire went inside early and often.  The Blugolds led 12-5 at 15:56, and senior forward Callie Halama and senior center Ellen Plendl accounted for all twelve.  Halama had nine of those.  Senior guard Nicole Christianson hit a three-pointer at 13:44 for the first points by the EC backcourt, putting the Blugolds up 17-7.  Eau Claire added another bucket at 12:42 for a 19-7 margin, their largest lead of the first half.  UW-EC was 7-9 from the field, Whitewater 2-14.  UW-W followed with a 7-0 burst to narrow the gap to 19-14 on two Emily Bestor free throws with 8:20 left.  The Warhawks reached that five point deficit twice more in the half, 25-20 on a Cortney Kumerow basket, and as the clock wound down Chantel Burg grabbed a rebound, drove the length of the court, hit a scoop layup and drew the foul, then hit the free throw, to make the score 28-23 into intermission.

Fortunately, while UW-W was shooting 24% in the first half, Eau Claire wasn't shooting lights out, at 43% from the floor.  Whitewater went 2-11 on three point shots, EC 1-8.  The Blugolds used a 24-19 rebound advantage to outscore the Warhawks 14-6 in the paint, but UW-W countered with just four turnovers to 13 for Eau Claire, giving Whitewater 13 points off turnovers to none for UW-EC.  Halama scored 15 points, and Plendl grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots in the first twenty minutes.  Burg led UW-W with nine points and three steals.

Chantel Burg's three-pointer at 18:37 pulled UW-W within two, 28-26, but Eau Claire recovered and built their margin back to eight, 41-33 on Plendl's free throw.  Jamie Swanson's three brought Whitewater back to two behind, 45-43 at 7:56.  Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Thill's driving layin at 7:19 tied the game for the first time.  Eau Claire scored the next six points to lead 51-45 at 5:12.  With 2:24 on the clock, Merg stepped to the line and hit two free throws, giving the Warhawks their first lead of the game, 52-51.  Halama gave EC a 53-52 lead with her bucket at 1:53, but Merg buried a three pointer with 1:07 for a 55-53 Whitewater lead.  UW-W coach Keri Carollo immediately called a timeout.  Bestor ended the EC possession with a steal, and Whitewater missed two shots on its end of the floor, but burned off twenty-five seconds.  The Blugolds gained possession with 0:20 left, and called timeout with 0:12 left.  Whitewater's Cortney Kumerow came up with a steal with six seconds left, and went to the line and hit two free throws for the final margin.

Eau Claire led the rebound battle 43-33 to outscore Whitewater 26-16 in "points in the paint".  Whitewater committed 11 turnovers to the 27 for UW-EC, with the Warhawks scoring 31 points off turnovers to five for the Blugolds.  Merg led UW-W with 17 points, with Burg adding 14 and Thill 12.  Burg also came up with a game high six steals.  Halama wound up leading both teams in scoring, with 19, and Plendl contributed a double double, with 17 rebounds and 14 points.  Plendl also blocked seven shots.

The importance of Thursday's win extends beyond the WIAC Tournament.  With four WIAC teams bunched at the top of the league's final standings, and all four in the national Division III poll, teams may find it hard to not to devote at least a fleeting thought to the NCAA III tournament bids that will be announced Monday.