Warhawks tie for third in WIAC men’s basketball tournament


Morgan Guenther

Freshman guard JT Hoytink makes a drive toward the basket against the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in the Kachel Gymnasium Jan. 22, 2022.

Mikey Rottier, Assistant Sports Editor

The UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team saw their season come to an end Friday Feb. 24, at Kolf Sports Center in Oshkosh. The Warhawks, seeded fourth, fell to the first seed,  UW-Oshkosh in the semifinal matchup of the WIAC conference tournament. The loss meant losing any hope for an NCAA tournament bid. They finished the season with a 15-11 record. 

After a first round bye, Whitewater took on UW-River Falls in the second round at Kachel Gymnasium. The Warhawks knocked off the Falcons 72-49 in a physical matchup. 

Early in the first half River Falls guard Noah Hanson went down hard on a foul by Jack Brahm at the basket. Hanson was helped off the court and did not reenter the game, he later left the building on crutches. After defeating the Warhawks twice in the regular season, River Falls ran a trap style defense against the Whitewater guards and leading scorers, Derek Gray and Gage Malensek. Despite the low production from the Warhawks go to players, sophomore forward Elijah Lambert was able to pick up the slack. Lambert scored 25 in the game and hit a number of big shots to help Whitewater pull away and advance past the Falcons. 

The Warhawks high energy contributed to a strong defensive effort. Head Coach Pat Miller was pleased with the team’s performance. 

“Tonight we came out with a lot of great energy, similar to some of the better games we have played this season. Defensively we were able to get them out of a lot of what they wanted to do. That helped us a lot,” Miller said. “We looked at the things they hurt us with during the regular season and I thought we adjusted well. Lambert did a great job defensively against Hanson before he went out. He only allowed him to get one shot off in the first ten minutes. We did a really good job getting the ball inside tonight and outscored them in the paint 38-30.”

With the win, Whitewater advanced to a semifinal matchup against the Titans at Kolf Sports Center in Oshkosh, Feb. 24. The Warhawks efforts were thwarted by a trio of Oshkosh players all scoring over 15 points. Hunter Plamann set the tone for Oshkosh, scoring 16 in the first half and hitting three of five from three point range. Whitewater kept the deficit to single digits by moving the ball and putting eight Warhawks in the scoring column before halftime. Whitewater came out hot in the second half, converting steals into transition points on Oshkosh’s first four possessions of the half. After Whitewater had cut the lead down to one, Oshkosh went on a 10-0 run and never let the Warhawks back within four. 

After the game, Miller spoke positively about the team’s progress this season but understands that this young Warhawk crew has room for improvement. 

“Against a team like them who are obviously really good, your weaknesses get exposed a little more than against a lesser team,” Miller said. “We have progressed as a team and we have gotten better. I think last night showed both those things, but there is still work to do in order for us to get to that next level.”

The Warhawks leading scorer, Derek Gray was held to just three points in the first half. Throughout the season he showed the ability to take over games and will his team to a win. Late in the second half, Gray put forth an effort to do just that. Despite his usual late game execution, after rolling a few tough shots off the rim, it was clear that his comeback efforts would be unsuccessful. He finished the game with a double-double recording 15 points and ten rebounds, along with four assists and a steal. 

“I knew the team needed a leader this season, I wanted to fill that role and lead this team to the success that we have not had in the past couple of years. This team put a lot of trust in me and that only made me grind harder day in and day out,” Gray said. “I felt the game slipping away and I tried my hardest to get us back in the game and pull the team together. It was a hard fought game, but the small errors late in the game got the best of us and we let it slip away in the last few minutes.”

This year’s Warhawk team showed a potential that has been missing from the Whitewater basketball program in recent years. Whitewater will be returning Derek Gray, Gage Malensek, Elijah Lambert and countless other important role players on the roster. They hope to build off this year’s momentum and accomplish what was just out of this year’s reach.