Blugolds open conference play with win

Renee Rosenow

The UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team took the first step in defending its Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title on Saturday.

In a back-and-forth hard-fought game, Eau Claire was able to slip past UW-Stout with a 73-68 victory.

“Credit Stout, they played a great game and really gave us everything we could handle,” coach Tonja Englund said.

In the first five minutes, both teams went back-and-forth and the Blugolds held an early 8-7 lead at the 15-minute mark.

Tough, physical play ensued and it was clear both teams were going to be battling for the remainder of the game.

Stout was able to string a few stops in a row and appeared to be gaining momentum. After hitting a three-point shot, the Blue Devils held a 22-15 lead with just under six minutes to go in the half.

Following a Stout timeout, Eau Claire quickly converted a field goal attempt. After a swift steal on defense, Eau Claire made a three pointer of their own, cutting the deficit to two.

At the half Stout had a 31-29 lead over the Blugolds.

It was unclear which team held the advantage because as soon as one team seemed to be making progress, the other team would answer with a play of its own.

“We had to relax a little bit and really step it on defense,” senior Heather Witt said. “Our defense wasn’t creating our offense and we needed to execute to get back in the game.”

Stout gained a four-point lead early in the second half, but Eau Claire answered again. After making a fast basket, the Blugolds got the ball back. Senior Heidi Arciszewski, who seemed to make big plays whenever Eau Claire needed it, converted a three-point play to take their first lead of the half.

Like in the first half, both teams struggled to maintain a strong hold on the game and both traded off the lead.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Stout had a narrow 59-58 lead over Eau Claire.

From there the Blugolds went on an 11- point scoring run to take a 10-point lead, and appeared to be in control.

However, the game continued in the pattern it had been going the entire night. Stout responded with a nine-point scoring run themselves, cutting the Eau Claire lead to one point with just 47 seconds to go.

From there, a free throw battle began, and the Blugolds flourished in the situation. Eau Claire shot 80 percent from the free throw line while Stout struggled at 50 percent.

“I told my players I want to be able to win games by getting to the line,” Englund said. “I really thought that was the key to the game tonight.”

After the Blugolds made one of two shots at the line, they held a slim 70-68 lead and Stout had a chance to tie the game.

Eau Claire was able to get an important stop on defense and Stout fouled immediately. Stout’s head coach, who was upset the foul wasn’t called sooner, received a technical foul for complaining about the situation. The result of the two fouls was four straight free throws for the Blugolds with just 1.6 seconds remaining.

Eau Claire sank three of the four shots and came away with a well-earned win.

Arciszewski led the way with a career high 31 points. Witt and sophomore Hannah Mesick each added 12 points of their own.

The players were happy to play in a game with a nice crowd where the fans really got into it.

“We live for this. We love playing in front of our home fans here at Zorn and are so thankful everyone came out and supported us today,” Witt said.

The Blugolds, now 8-0 overall and 1-0 in the WIAC conference, will take on UW-Platteville Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Zorn Arena.