The UW-Whitewater women’s basketball team lost a tough game Tuesday night against UW-Eau Claire by a final score of 69-59.
This game was the first round of the WIAC Conference playoffs. Both teams were in the playoffs last year but Whitewater lost in the first round and Eau Claire lost in the semifinals. This was the team’s second meeting in four days. In their last meeting Whitewater lost to Eau Clair 68-58 on senior day.
Whitewater’s Lisa Palmer broke the ice scoring on a bank shot from the right side. In the opening minutes neither team played particularly well. Whitewater in the first 5 minutes of the quarter shot only 14.3% from the field. Their defense played well forcing 6 turnovers for Eau Claire. Toward the end of the quarter both teams started to find their rhythm but Whitewater’s defense was able to hold strong and they lead 17-11.
In the second quarter the game started to get very physical. There were a lot of players being knocked to the ground and hit hard as they shot the ball. Whitewater got into foul trouble early in the quarter. Eau Claire started to take over the game and by the end of the half they shot 47.8% from the field. In the first 16 minutes of the first half they also out rebounded Whitewater 20-11.
Whitewater’s offence struggled with outside shooting going 0-5 from the three point line in the first half. The defense was able to keep them in the game by winning the turnover battle 11-5. However, they were struggling especially to contain Erin O’Toole a 6-foot 4-inch sophomore for Eau Claire. She is several inches taller than all the Whitewater team and she was able to have free range at the basket. At the end of the first half Eau Claire had a slight 29-27 lead.
In the third quarter both teams started out slow again and with some sloppy play. Whitewater was only able to score 2 points in the first 4 minutes of the quarter. As they did in the first quarter, both teams started to find their rhythm. Whitewater tied the game at 35 with a little over 4 minutes remaining in the third when Andrea Olson took it coast to coast driving into two defenders and making a layup. A little over a minute later Abbie Reeves had three looks at the basket and hit a big three pointer on the third opportunity to regain the lead. At the end of the third quarter Whitewater was down only 1 point.
In the fourth despite a hard fought effort, the game started to slip out of reach for Whitewater. They again got into foul trouble early in the quarter and the defense started to slow down and look tired. They were unable to stop O’Toole inside the paint and she would finish the game with 20 points.
Head coach Keri Carollo said that, “You are never really going to stop a player like her,” and that team just tried to double team her and limit the times she got the ball.
Similarly on outside shooting they struggled to stop Teenie Lichtfuss who was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points.
Carollo said, “We had sprits of showing really great things throughout the game,” but also said that the team was not able to play consistent throughout the game and they had some costly turnovers towards the end.
Whitewater’s team wore their emotions on their sleeves all throughout the game. There was a lot of cheering, support and energy from the bench. As the game started to slip out of reach in the final minutes, Whitewater pulled all their starters and seniors. Some of the players at this point began to cry and hug each other.
Spectator Brandon Grade said, “I have never been that close to that much emotion in a game before. It was sad to see the seniors crying on their way out of the game, knowing it was their last game that they will play at Whitewater.”
Carollo said, that this year’s seniors “really stepped up and did what we asked them to do all year.”
Eau Claire Plays Thursday night at UW-River Falls in the semifinals of the WIAC conference tournament. Whitewater is preparing to head to the NCAA tournament and in the first round they will play Bluffton, Ohio on March 4 at 5:30 p.m.