Men win regular season title

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Expect the unexpected.

With last week’s loss to UW-Superior, the UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team looked as if they ruined their chance at potentially capturing the No. 1 seed for the WIAC Tournament.

Sophomore Alex Merg goes up for a layup. Merg finished with five points and 11 assists in his team’s win against UW-River Falls 55-53. UW-Whitewater heads into the WIAC tournament as the No. 1 seed and earned a first-round bye. Photo by Andrew Smith.

They needed to win at UW-River Falls on Saturday and needed No. 12 ranked UW-Stevens Point to lose its last two games in order to capture the conference title.

Somehow that happened.

The ’Hawks defeated the Falcons 55-53 in River Falls while the Pointers lost to UW-Stout and UW-Eau Claire, giving the team its fourth conference title in the last seven years.

“It feels great,” head coach Pat Miller said. “This is a team that has worked really hard the entire year defensively and has been a very consistent team.”

Miller said the team was hoping for the second seed after their loss at UW-Superior.

“Obviously UW-Stevens Point losing its games was unexpected, and we certainly benefited from it,” Miller said.

With the No. 1 seed, the Warhawks earned a bye and will host the lowest remaining seed at 7 p.m. Friday.

Miller said having the bye would help because of all of the traveling the team has done.

“The bye is certainly beneficial,” Miller said. “Sometimes it can be a disadvantage, but given the fact that we have played four of our last five games on the road, we have been on buses a lot. So I think just to have some time to regroup and get guys rested up will be very important for us.”

The ’Hawks will also get home-court advantage, which Miller said would also help them. The ’Hawks went 9-1 at home this season.

“The home-court advantage could be great to see our students and fans get out to create an atmosphere for us,” Miller said.

Miller said the UW-River Falls game was a much-needed win in order to have a chance to jump up to a higher seed for the tournament.

Miller added it was a great learning experience for the team because the atmosphere was something they have never witnessed before.

“It was a great game,” Miller said. “It was probably one of the most physical games I’ve been involved with as a coach. It was just really a battle and both teams played extremely hard.

“It wasn’t an extremely well-played game from a turnover perspective, shooting percentage or free throw percentage, but it was just a very highly contested game.”

The winner of the conference tournament receives an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament, but even if the ’Hawks should lose,  it is expected they would earn an at-large bid.