Downtown Abby: Midtlien lights up Morris

With the weather dipping below zero, UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball player Abby Midtlien heated up Zorn Arena in a big, big way.

The freshman guard knocked down six 3-pointers en route to 24 points and more importantly a 72-53 home victory over the University of Minnesota-Morris to snap a four-game losing streak.

Head coach Tonja Englund said that is the kind of player she knew she was getting when she recruited Midtlien out of Westby High School.

“That’s Abby,” Englund said. “That’s something that she normally does. That’s not an exceptional performance for her, that’s how she plays.”

Much like she did against UW-La Crosse Saturday, Midtlien opened the game by burying one from downtown, and the heat checks started early.

On several first-half possessions, she got the ball from a driving Courtney Lewis and released it almost as soon as she touched it. Four out of seven times, she found the bottom of the net, pumping up her teammates and coach with every shot.

“The first one kind of just came, and then they kept passing me the ball,” Midtlien said.

The freshman hit her fourth trey-ball right at the first-half buzzer to send the Blugolds into the halftime locker room with a 32-25 lead over the visiting Cougars. As exciting as it was, it was also wildly important to enter intermission with momentum.

What happens immediately after halftime has been an issue for the Blugolds this season, as twice they have blown big first-half leads, including Saturday against La Crosse.

But Midtlien said the mood was much different in the home locker room after she beat the buzzer.

“It felt good to go in with a bigger lead at half,” Midtlien said. “We were pretty pumped up, laughing and pretty happy in the locker room.”

The Blugolds came out in the second half and quickly put any thoughts of another meltdown away. Eau Claire went on an 18-8 run in the first eight-minutes to completely take the Cougars out of the game.

Lewis, one of two captains on the team, said it was great for team confidence to come out swinging so hard in the second half.

“We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve really come out in the first half and proved ourselves,” Lewis said. “And then in the second half we lose that momentum, and that’s when we lose our gaps.”

Lewis also had a noteworthy day on the court, recording 16 points, seven rebounds and a career-high nine assists to flirt with that elusive triple-double.

“That’s pretty special,” Englund said of Lewis’ stat line. “I just don’t think you see enough of those throw-back players anymore.”

Eau Claire ended the game with 21 assists on the 28 made field goals. Along with Lewis, sophomore point guard Teenie Lichtfuss also reached a career-high in assists as she had seven helpers on the night.

Playing their second game of a three games-in-six days stretch, the Blugolds were able to rest some starters and see what other people could do on the court. Eau Claire travels to UW-Platteville Wednesday to wrap up first-semester games.

Eau Claire will look to keep the progress going at Platteville, a place Englund said they have at a lot of success in lately. Monday’s game was a big step for the young Blugolds headed into the thick of WIAC play.

“You keep on teaching, and then you get those benchmarks, and this was one of them tonight,” Englund said.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday on Bo Ryan Court in Platteville.