Men’s hoops ends season with two losses to conference powers

Story by Nick Erickson, Staff Writer

With the possibility of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playoffs out the door, the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball ended its season by dropping two games to annual conference powerhouses UW-Platteville and UW-Stevens Point. The Blugolds lost 76-65 Wednesday in Zorn Arena to Platteville before falling 68-34 Saturday in Quandt Fieldhouse to host Stevens Point.

Playing their final home game Wednesday night, the Blugolds were overmatched inside by the more physical Platteville. Three-time WIAC Player of the Week Chas Cross was dominant all game long for the Pioneers, scoring 17 points while pulling down 15 rebounds.

His fellow big man Jake Manning added 14 points and 7 rebounds as Platteville dominated the glass to the tune of a 38-24 rebounding advantage. Head Coach Matt Siverling thought that was one of the differences in the game.

“It seemed like every time they missed a shot or we got a big stop, they’d come flying in and get the rebound,” he said. “Obviously that’s one of the reasons they won the game.”

The Pioneers were never able to pull away, however, as the Blugolds hung tough throughout. They took care of the ball, only turning it over eight times, and shot 44 percent from the floor.

“These guys battled the entire game and battled until the end, and that’s all you can ask for,” Siverling said.

The loss to the Pioneers officially eliminated the Blugolds from postseason play and with nothing to play for but pride on Saturday, the Blugolds were overwhelmed by a Stevens Point team that was playing for the outright WIAC title.

After Lewis Mau scored right away, Point went on a 15-0 run to open the game up. The Blugolds shot only 23 percent in the loss.

For the second straight year, the Blugolds will be at home watching the WIAC tournament instead of playing in it. Senior guard Jordan Petersen said that the team was disappointed in not qualifying, but lack of effort was not the issue.

“That was our main goal,” Petersen said. “We definitely worked hard at it during the season, but we just came up short.”

Last week marked the final time Petersen, Nick Craggs, Dustin Kalien, Zach Womeldorf and Andy Kleist would don Blugold uniforms, as all five are now out of eligibility. They were honored during Wednesday’s game before an appreciative crowd in Zorn Arena.

This group has endured three coaching changes in three years. They stuck together, however, and Womeldorf credited their cohesiveness to being able to play hard for three different coaches.

“We all get along so well in the locker room,” he said. “We’ve definitely bonded as a team very well coming out of this.”

The Blugolds finished out the season with a 10-15 (4-12) record, good enough for seventh place in the conference. The season was highlighted by a three game winning streak in mid January that included a comeback win on the road against 17-8 UW-La Crosse that saw the Blugolds storm back from a 15 point second half deficit.

Coach Siverling knows he has challenges ahead, but has said that he thoroughly enjoyed his first year at the helm, especially with his five seniors that will no longer suit up.

“They’re a great group,” he said. “I just appreciate what they did this year and wish them nothing but the best as they move on from here.”