The No. 2 UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team went through a series of ups and downs over winter break, going 6-2 since many students left campus during the holidays.
The Warhawks claimed several early season wins to climb up in the rankings, but after two home conference losses, they are beginning to see that the difference between winning and losing lies in the little things.
“What we’ve told our guys repeatedly is we do not have a margin to make mistakes,” UW-W head coach Pat Miller said.
To start the winter break fun the Warhawks finished out their non-conference schedule by competing in the Nicolet National Bank Holiday Tournament at Saint Norbert College on Dec. 29-30. The Warhawks defeated Finlandia 90-60 in the first game of the tournament before topping host Saint Norbert 89-78 in the championship game.
In conference play, UW-W went 4-2 over the break.
The Warhawks opened with an impressive 83-57 road victory over UW-Oshkosh. At the time of the victory the Titans were ranked seventh in the nation.
After defeating the Titans, the Warhawks suffered their second loss of the season at the hand of at-the-time No.3 UW-River Falls. In the game against the Falcons UW-W was in control for the majority of the contest, before UW-RF senior Brennan Witt hit a jumper with two seconds remaining, giving the Falcons their first lead of the second half. The Falcons closed the game on a 15-4 run in a tough stretch for the Warhawks.
UW-W bounced back from the loss with a 78-65 road victory over UW-Eau Claire on Jan. 10. After the victory over the Blugolds the Warhawks topped UW-Stout 69-55.
This Past Week
The Warhawks went 1-1 this past week in two WIAC conference games against UW-Stevens Point and UW-La Crosse.
Whitewater hosted the conference leading Pointers in Kachel Gymnasium on Jan. 17. UW-SP is No. 1 in the WIAC standings because of the perfect 6-0 mark in conference play, though they are 12-5 overall.
The Warhawks had the lead for the majority of the game versus the Pointers. Whitewater took the 15-14 lead on a dunk from junior Andre Brown with nine and a half minutes remaining in the first half, and held on to that lead five minutes into the second half. Both teams would go back and forth until David Sachs’ spinning layup gave the Warhawks the 56-55 lead with eight and a half minutes remaining. From there UW-SP would go on to score an unanswered 12 points, thus clinching the victory in the final six minutes of the contest.
After being contained for a majority of the first half, UW-Stevens Point’s leading scorer Matt Dodge used an open 3-pointer off an offensive rebound late in the first half to establish a rhythm which would carry over to the second half. Dodge knocked down four of six shots from downtown after the break to carry a Pointers offense which outscored the Wahawks 44-30 in the second half. Miller feels that plays like those which get Dodge going are crucial in winning tough games against their WIAC rivals.
“Plays like that kill you, and we can’t allow those,” coach Miller said. “It’s just that fraction change that makes the difference.”
In the second game of the week UW-W came out on top in a tightly contested 67-64 overtime victory over UW-La Crosse. In a true back and forth affair, the game featured 27 lead changes and 12 ties, including one as the buzzer sounded.
Andre Brown and junior guard Derek Rongstad paced the Warhawks offense in overtime, chipping in four points each in the extra frame.
The game versus La Crosse may exemplify, more than any other, just how tough the WIAC conference is from top to bottom. With three teams currently ranked in the D3hoops.com top 15 (No. 2 UW-W, No. 6 UW-O and No. 13 UW-RF) and UW-SP knocking on the door of the top 25, it isn’t just the top of the conference that’s strong. Teams at the bottom, like UW-LC, 10-7, can give the No. 2 team in the nation a run for its money.
“It’s tough, but that’s the WIAC for you,” junior forward Mitchell Pfiefer said about the competitiveness of the conference. “It’s an every night thing, you have to play hard.”
Who’s been getting it done
Over break, Andre Brown and Derek Rongstad have been carrying the team.
Through the past eight games Brown averages 17.9 points per game on shooting splits of 61 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range.
Rongstad’s impact is not only felt by his double digit scoring but also by his defense and rebounding. His 5.6 rebounds per game is best on the team over winter break, and he is recording over one steal per game in that stretch.
“I go into every game with the same mentality that I’m going to box out my guy and help us rebound as a team,” Rongstad said.
Junior forward Mitchell Pfiefer has provided scoring, albeit not as consistently as the Warhawks have needed. Over the last eight games Pfiefer had four games of 18 plus points, but he also had three games where he only scored five points.
Sachs has provided a consistent 12.1 points per game while recording a team-high three assists per game.
Conference play continues
The Warhawks host two conference games at Kachel Gymnasium this week. The first game will be against UW-Platteville with tipoff slated for 7 p.m. This will be the first game of the season against the Pioneers, whom the Warhawks swept 2-0 last season. UW-W won both games by a combined six points in a tighter season series than the records show.
At 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 the Warhawks will go for the season sweep of the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds.