Semifinal battle ends in Eau Claire loss
During what was a heated battle, the UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team fell just short of advancing to the finals of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in a 73-68 game last Thursday against UW-Whitewater.
It was a close game throughout and a rematch of last year’s semifinal game, where the Blugolds dominated. But the matchup came down to experience Thursday night.
“I think we played well and had chances to win it, and what it came down to is they had a little more experience and more depth,” junior Hannah Mesick said.
The Warhawks scored first and opened up a few leads early in the game, but it was the Blugolds who grabbed a one-point advantage going into the second half. Eau Claire even maintained the lead for about the first five minutes of the final period. After that, the teams swapped the lead several times as the clock ticked down.
But the game came down to turnovers, Mesick said. Eau Claire gave up 28 turnovers to Whitewater’s seven. From those turnovers the Warhawks came away with 26 points and put the Blugolds in a predicament towards the end of the game.
The Blugolds were able to edge in front of Whitewater when freshman Sarah Bingea nailed a three-pointer with 2:35 minutes remaining. Eau Claire took the one-point lead, but it would be the last time the Blugolds were ahead.
Whitewater outscored the Lady Blugolds 7-3 in the final minutes to end the game 73-68 and to end Eau Claire’s season.
Despite coming up short in the semifinal event, Bingea said the team has grown a lot over the season.
“I think we’re the better team,” she said. “It’s too bad we didn’t come out with the win.”
Bingea led the Blugolds in scoring, netting a career-high 20 points for the team. Mesick and sophomore Ellen Plendl also had double-digit figures, adding 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Mesick finished the game just two points shy of 1,000 career points, but she said she was more focused on the team than her own performance.
Bingea said it was difficult to have senior Jodi Lindner foul out toward the end of the game. Lindner is a leader for the team, she said. In addition to Lindner, sophomore point guard Laura Olson also fouled out in the closing minutes of the game.
But the difficult loss also gives the Lady Blugolds motivation, Bingea said.
“This game just gave us incentive to improve over the summer and come back,” she said.
The game also came down to free throw shots, with Eau Claire completing just 50 percent of their 12 attempts.
“We fouled more than we wanted to, so they got to the line a lot,” Mesick said. “When we got there (to the line), we weren’t able to take advantage.”
Coach Tonja Englund said she was proud of the way her team played Thursday. Having many young players on the team bodes well for its success next season, she said.
She added the team played a difficult non-conference schedule and said, “Our season has been a season of growing.”
Even though the team isn’t very happy with its overall 10-17 record, Englund said the games have made the team better.
“For our players returning, I’d rather have them know it’s going to pay off,” she said.
Englund said the team is a great group of athletes to represent the university, and they have overcome challenges throughout the season.
She said, “I would say it’s been one of the most enjoyable teams that I’ve coached.”