March 19, 2014
By Kevin Cunningham
History repeated itself in one way, yet did not repeat itself in another on March 15 in the Elite Eight game against DePauw University, when the UW-Whitewater Warhawks defeated the Tigers, 88-71, for the right to move on to the Final Four.
Nearly one year ago, the ’Hawks beat Hope College, 65-50, to move on to the program’s third Final Four in school history. By getting the best of DePauw this past weekend, the team made it back to the Final Four for the second straight season. History repeated itself.
In last year’s national championship game, the Tigers defeated the ’Hawks, 69-51, completing an undefeated season. In that sense, history did not repeat itself.
“We got our sweet revenge that we wanted to,” senior guard Mary Merg said. “They have an extraordinary home record, and we had nothing to lose.”
On DePauw’s home court in Greencastle, Ind., the Tigers had lost two games in the previous eight seasons heading into Saturday’s contest. The Warhawks’ win also broke the Tigers’ 36-game home court winning streak.
Before the 17-point victory to move to the Final Four, the Warhawks had to defeat a common foe in the UW-Oshkosh Titans to make it to the Elite Eight. The ’Hawks and Titans met two times during the regular season, and head coach Keri Carollo said she knows things can get tricky when playing a team a third time.
“Both teams had a hard time scoring [to start] because we’re so familiar with each other,” Carollo said. “We just wanted to stay the course and play great defense. We did change things a bit on offense just to give them a different look, but defensively we stuck to the same game plan.”
In the first 20 minutes of play, the ’Hawks and Titans both could not shoot north of 40 percent. Merg, however, was the lone bright spot in the half, scoring 16 of the team’s 24 points. Heading into the second half, the Warhawks held a 24-20 lead over the Titans.
Carollo’s team went on a 9-1 run with just more than 12 minutes remaining and eventually pushed the lead to double digits, which proved to be too much for the Titans. UW-Oshkosh could not overcome their 20 turnovers, and the ’Hawks moved on to play DePauw after a 69-57 win.
The first half of the DePauw game went a lot smoother for the Warhawks, yet at the end of the first 20 minutes of play, the ’Hawks only saw themselves leading 34-32. The last time the two teams had met, the Tigers bested the Warhawks for the national championship last season. Any questions regarding how the team would come out and respond were quickly answered.
“I saw our team playing with a ton of confidence,” Carollo said. “I was really excited for them, and I was looking forward to coaching that game because we had a group of girls that were going to give their best effort.”
After the first minute of the second half, starting sophomore guard Abbie Reeves went down with a shoulder injury that would leave her sidelined for the rest of the contest.
The injury seemed to light a fire in the ’Hawks’ belly as they went on a 12-0 run directly after, and the lead would never dip below double digits again.
“It’s an incredible feeling [when you’re out there] that words can’t describe,” Merg said.
The 88-71 win over the Tigers was fueled by the 54 second-half points the Warhawks put up. In last year’s championship game, the ’Hawks mustered only 51 points in the entire game.
This time around, Merg and Ruchti led the way, with Merg scoring 21 points, recording nine rebounds and dishing out six assists. Ruchti scored a game-high 24 points and crashed the glass as well, earning nine rebounds.
Next up for the Warhawks in the Final Four are the Whitman Missionaries (30-1).
The ’Hawks will have the shortest drive to make the trip to the Final Four, as it is set in Stevens Point. The Warhawks face the Missionaries at 7 p.m. on March 21 for the right to go to the national championship game, which takes place at 7 p.m. on March 22.