Last year the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball team lost three times to UW-Whitewater. Twice in the regular season, including a one point home loss and the third came in the semifinals of the WIAC tournament, but in their first regular season meeting of 2016, the script was flipped.
For the first time since January 2005, the Blugolds defeated the Warhawks in Whitewater, and head coach Matt Siverling said the win has helped Eau Claire gain momentum as they continue conference play.
“One of the biggest things is we were able to do this on the road,” Siverling said. “We did a really good job controlling the pace of the game and made some plays down the stretch of a back-and-forth game.”
At the time, Whitewater was 11-4 and battling for a spot atop the conference, but after winning a WIAC playoff game last year, the Blugolds were ready to do something the program had not done in six years – beat Whitewater.
It was a defensive game and Eau Claire held the Warhawks to only 40 percent shooting from the field. Siverling said their defensive game plan to let Whitewater shoot from the outside and not allow easy inside buckets paid off.
The Warhawks were the last game in Eau Claire’s eight game winter break stretch. While university students were away from campus, the Blugolds went 5-3 overall and 3-3 in conference play.
Siverling said one of the biggest adjustments that occurred over Winterim was the return of guards Adam Hjelter and Tyson Kalien to the lineup.
Hjelter led the team in scoring two seasons ago prior to battling a slew of injuries and Kalien is last year’s leading scorer.
Adding both to the lineup brought more offensive options, but more importantly, depth to the Blugold rotation, Siverling said.
“We got two of our guys back because they were out the first half of the season,” Siverling said. “That helped us play well in our holiday tournament and we beat some quality opponents.”
Kalien, a 6-foot-3 junior, is averaging 12.6 points per game thus far and said his return to the lineup was easy because of the teammates he has around him.
In his absence, several underclassmen stepped up to fill the sharp-shooter’s void. The most successful being sophomore George Diekelman. Who is averaging 12.8 points per game and hasn’t missed a game.
“That shows how deep we can be as a team,” Kalien said. “Some guys got some big minutes and that will only help us down the stretch.”