March 5, 2014
By Kevin Cunningham
The UW-Whitewater women’s basketball team may not have won the WIAC Tournament this past weekend, but falling short did not keep head coach Keri Carollo’s team out of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
“They [UW-Superior] played with a lot of heart, passion and a sense of urgency,” Carollo said. “I didn’t see that in us tonight, and I don’t know why.”
On Feb. 27, the Warhawks hosted the No. 5-seeded UW-Superior Yellowjackets in the Semifinal of the WIAC Tournament. The previous four WIAC Tournaments were won by the UW-Stevens Point Pointers, and each of those four victories were against the ’Hawks.
This time around, the Warhawks had the No. 1 seed and were hosting throughout the tournament as long as the team kept winning. After the opening few minutes against the Yellowjackets, the ’Hawks saw themselves trailing on the scoreboard, 9-2.
The rest of the first half went the Yellowjackets’ way as well, and UW-Superior went on an 11-3 run to end the half, leading 41-25 at halftime.
In the second half, the Warhawks were able to trim the lead but never got close enough to create doubt in the minds of the Yellowjackets’ players.
“We just could not get that stop,” Carollo said. “Every time we got the lead down to 10 they would get a bucket. I felt like if we could cut it to eight we could turn it around.”
The game ended, 84-63, in favor of UW-Superior and for the fifth straight season, the ’Hawks fell short in the WIAC title game.
Senior point guard Kaitlyn Thill scored 16 points, dished out seven assists and recorded two steals, but the team could not overcome its 31 percent shooting from the field.
In the final, No. 2-seed UW-Oshkosh defeated the Yellowjackets, 75-69. With the win, the Titans earned the WIAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“Selection Monday” in Division-III basketball took place March 3, but for Carollo, awaiting an at-large bid was not as nerve-wrecking as one would think.
“I’m on the national committee, so I knew last night [that we were in the tournament],” Carollo said.
While Carollo’s on the committee, she said she gets taken off the call that is made to members around the country when discussing which teams are placed where. In Lehman’s terms, she had no say in whom or where UW-Whitewater played in the NCAA Tournament.
In D-III women’s basketball, the brackets are much like the brackets in D-I.
There are four regions with 16 teams in each, and within those 16 teams, there are four “pods” where one team hosts the first-and second-round games.
Because the UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team is hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it is technically impossible for the women to host the first weekend unless the men’s team has one of two possible first-round byes.
Since the men did not receive the bye, the women knew they were going to have to play on the road.
Once the brackets were revealed, the women found out they would have to travel to St. Paul, Minn., to take on the Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers (MN) (21-5 overall).
If the Warhawks defeat the Cobbers on March 7, they will advance to the second round to take on the winner of St. Thomas (MN), (24-4 overall) who is the hosting team, and Loras College (19-8 overall) on March 8.
“We had two practices after the Superior game, and they’re probably two of the best practices we’ve had all year,” Carollo said. “The team was excited, energized, and I think they have learned a tough lesson that we can’t take anything for granted. They definitely feel like they have something to prove.”
When analyzing the way the Warhawks play, they often times like to put pressure on their opponents, forcing more than 21 turnovers per game.
Looking at the Cobbers’ roster and statistics regarding ball control, the team has smaller guards but bigger forwards up front.
The Cobbers’ leading rebounders stand at 6-foot-4, 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1, respectively. The team from Moorhead, Minn., also averages turning the ball over 16 times per contest.
“Our pressure is definitely something that is an advantage for us once we start playing teams that aren’t used to our style of play,” Carollo said. “I’m hoping that our pressure defense and our quickness can help us.”
Looking down the road in the tournament, a Sweet 16 matchup against a common foe in UW-Oshkosh is possible.
If the ’Hawks reach the Elite Eight, a rematch of last year’s national championship game against DePauw University looks plausible.
When asked what the one thing was the Warhawks have to make sure they do in order to have success in the tournament, Carollo delivered a simple message.
“Survive and advance.”