Fast starts propel ‘Hawks in wins

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Junior guard Chris Jones shoots over defenders in a home game earlier this year.

Justin St. Peter, Sports Editor

After winning the first 11 non-conference games to begin the season, the UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team scuffled at the beginning of WIAC conference play, losing three straight games.

Since dropping three in a row though, the No. 25 ’Hawks have turned it around and won three straight conference games to sit at 3-3 in conference play six games into the WIAC schedule.

The key for the ’Hawks has been the ability to get off to fast starts in the team’s win streak.

“We got off to some good starts,” head coach Pat Miller said. “We stopped the ball penetration well and had nice reads at halftime… Obviously, that was a huge week for us, being 1-3 in the conference and going on the road for two consecutive games against teams above us in the standings was really a make or break week for us.”

In UW-W’s Jan. 18 73-67 victory against UW-Oshkosh, the ’Hawks connected on 10 of the squad’s first 12 shots and built up a 27-8 midway through the first half.

As a result of the hot start, UW-W was 7-10 from three-point range in the first half and finished 56.3 percent from the field for the game.

The victory was the Warhawks 16th straight vs. UW-Oshkosh, with the team’s last loss against the Titans in February 2009.

It was not all smooth sailing though, as the ’Hawks led by double-digits throughout the game before a late rally by the Titans brought it to 70-65 with 49 seconds left. Sophomore guard/forward Derek Rongstad hit two free throws and sophomore guard Andre Brown split a pair to extend the lead and give UW-W the win.

Junior guard Chris Jones racked up 21 points to lead the team, while also tallying three assists. After injuring his ankle in a game against Loras and barely playing the next few games while recovering, Miller was happy to have the player who accounted for nearly 20 percent of the team’s offense back in the lineup.

“His style of play is conducive to how we want to play,” Miller said. “He is explosive offensively and his injury certainly set him back. Im not sure that he is back to full strength yet, but he is close to being back to where he was.”

Junior forward Demetrius Woodley added 11 points, and Rongstad tallied 10 points for the UW-W.

Junior forward Scotty Tyler contributed his fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He was reached for comment but was unable to respond by press time.

The ’Hawks finished the week with a convincing 65-51 victory on Jan. 21 on the road against UW-Stout.

UW-W recorded 13 of the first 18 points to secure an early lead to beat the Blue Devils. The ’Hawks drained eight three-pointers in the first half and went to the break with a 35-22 lead.

The Blue Devils mounted a late rally, bringing UW-W’s lead to four points with 5:40 left in the second half before the ’Hawks strung together the next seven points to lead 60-49 four minutes later. Tyler tallied five of those seven points.

UW-W’s defense was able to hold the Blue Devils to a paltry 34.5 percent from the field and 21.4 percent beyond the arc.

Jones once again led the Warhawks with 22 points, including 4-5 from three-point territory and four assists.

Tyler contributed 13 points and four rebounds. Woodley and Rongstad each tallied 11 points to round out the ’Hawks in double figures.

The ’Hawks travel to UW-La Crosse at 5 p.m. on Jan. 28 before a home matchup against UW-Platteville at 7 p.m. on Feb. 1.

Miller said the team is focused on improving during those two games and the rest of the season.

“After a slow start, we went back to some things that we were doing and improved upon those things,” Miller said. “Last week allowed us to get back in the conference in the first round of conference play, so there is a long way to go.”

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