‘Hawks dispatch UW-Stout in first round of WIAC tournament

Justin St. Peter, Sports Editor

After beating the UW-Stout Blue Devils at home by 35 two and a half weeks ago, the three-seeded UW-Whitewater Warhawks were in a much tighter contest in the team’s 78-69 victory Feb. 21 in the first round of the WIAC tournament.

Head coach Pat Miller was not surprised it was a closer game.

“We shot the ball really well… the first two times that we played them,” Miller said. “Tonight, they made nine threes; we only made six. It changed the balance of the game. Early on, we had some good looks that we missed and didn’t get off to a very good start. I think that gave them energy, and they were in it from that point on.”

Like Miller said, the ’Hawks started slow but were helped by junior forward Demetrius Woodley’s strong start. Woodley was aggressive in attacking the basket all game and scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the first half.

The six-seeded Blue Devils made full line changes, subbing out all five players at a once many times throughout the game and executed a full-court press defensive approach whenever they made a basket to try and stop the UW-W offense. Despite or because of that, both teams raced up and down the floor for baskets for a good portion of the first half.

The ’Hawks took a 23-17 lead after sophomore guard/forward Derek Rongstad converted on a fast-break layup that forced a Blue Devils timeout with 11:20 left in the first half.

On the net possession, Rongstad executed the pick-and-roll perfectly and found junior forward Scotty Tyler for the dunk that got the crowd on its feet.

Hot shooting from the Blue Devils kept it close for the remainder of the first half before before six straight points from junior guard Chris Jones and a back-breaking three by Tyler with five seconds left in the first half gave the ’Hawks a 45-37 lead at the break.

The teams traded buckets for the early part of the second half before a three-point play by Blue Devils sophomore guard Braden Walbeck brought the game to a 53-52 ’Hawks lead with 12 minutes to play.

UW-W was able to score the next six points, and then were able to coax another clutch three-pointer from Tyler as the shot clock horn went off with seven minutes left in the game to give the team a 63-54 lead.

The last few minutes of the game were punctuated by missed chances for UW-Stout and stellar defense by by UW-W to force the Blue Devils to shoot 3-16 in the final six minutes of the game.

Tyler contributed 17 points and team-high seven rebounds, while Jones and Rongstad cracked double-figures with 12 and 10 points respectively.

The Blue Devils were led by junior forward John Lahti’s 16 points, although he fouled out with six minutes left in the second half.

Junior guard John Keefe tallied 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while junior guard Isaac Elliot tallied 12 points off the bench. Walbeck was the fourth Blue Devil in double-figures with 11 points.

The Warhawks did not leave the game unscathed, as sophomore guard Marquis Turner limped off early in the first half and did not return to the game. Rongstad also re-aggravated an ankle injury late in the second half and did not return either, although head coach Pat Miller said Rongstad could have came back in if necessary.

“We didn’t think it would be wise to put him back in the game,” Miller said. “We will get [both of] them as much treatment as possible, and hopefully they will be ready to go on Thursday.”

With the victory, the ’Hawks will head to UW-Oshkosh to take on the No. 2 seeded Titans at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Kolf Sports Center. If the ’Hawks win, they will play either fifth-seeded UW-La Crosse or top seed UW-River Falls on Saturday, Feb. 25 for the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament.
Miller is just focused on familiar foe UW-Oshkosh.

“We just played them last Wednesday, so I don’t think there is going to be any secrets,” Miller said. “This time a year, you have played teams multiple times, scouted them and made adjustments. Now its time to just go play and make plays and shots.”