UW-Stout ends women hoopsters’ streak

Butch McCartney

Playing in front of a packed Zorn Arena with a playoff-like atmosphere, the women’s basketball team battled for first place in the WIAC Wednesday.

An estimated 2,100 spectators saw a game that featured 18 lead changes and 10 ties, as UW-Stout ended UW-Eau Claire’s 15-game home winning streak, winning 71-65.

The win improved Stout’s record to 11-1 in the WIAC, two games ahead of Eau Claire. The Blugolds are 17-3 overall, with all three of their losses coming in conference play.

The final score represented the largest lead of the game for the Blue Devils. The two teams were within four points of each other the entire second half.

Stout took the lead for good on a layup by Sara Kahl with four minutes, nine seconds left in the game. Junior Kristi Channing made a pair of layups in the final three minutes, but Stout responded each time.

Eau Claire cut the deficit to 66-65 on Channing’s layup with 1:06 to play, but were unable to get a clean look at the basket the rest of the way. The Blue Devils hit the free throws they needed to pull away.

From the opening tip, the Blue Devil press helped control the tempo of the game and kept the Blugolds off balance.

The Blugolds were able to handle the press well enough in the first half to take a 32-31 lead into halftime. In the second half, the ‘Golds struggled getting the ball into the frontcourt.

“Part of it was fatigue,” coach Tonja Englund said. “We handled (the press) when we were rested, but we struggled when we were tired.”

Freshman guard Emilee Planert said the difference between the two halfs was focus.

“We took care of the ball more in the first half,” she said. “In the second half, we were hesitant on where to pass the ball.”

Englund said that despite the problems the Blugolds had with the press, that wasn’t the difference in the game. She said that Stout simply hit more shots when they had to, and Eau Claire wasn’t able to answer.

The Blue Devils shot 54 percent from the floor in the second half, while the Blugolds shot only 43 percent.

Stout made 7-17 from 3-point land and the Blugolds were unable to counter without their junior Janel Soppeland, the team’s second-leading scorer. Soppeland may be out for the season with a knee injury suffered in Eau Claire’s win over UW-La Crosse on Saturday.

Without Soppeland, the Blugolds looked to force the ball inside to Channing and sophomore Brooke Wozniak early in the game, but Stout kept the Blugolds from getting clean passes inside.

“We just couldn’t get into the flow of the game,” Wozniak said. “Whenever they scored and had time to set up the press, we struggled.”

Channing led all scorers with 23 points in the game. Freshman guard Lindsey Williams was the only other Blugold to reach double figures, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench.

Three players reached double figures to lead a balanced scoring attack for Stout. Seven Blue Devils scored between seven and 12 points.

Eau Claire outrebounded the Blue Devils 37-35 and had one fewer turnover, but it wasn’t enough to keep Stout from extending its winning streak to six games. The Blugolds saw a six-game winning streak of their own vanish.