MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (March 3–10)
WIAC MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL (WIAC Championship): UW–Platteville 74, UW–La Crosse 47
LA CROSSE — The UW–Platteville men’s basketball team defeated host UW–La Crosse 74–47 to secure the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship.
The win over the #14-ranked Eagles marks both the 22nd regular season and third tournament titles for the #11-ranked Pioneers.
Friday’s victory in an empty Mitchell Hall was the first WIAC tournament championship secured on the road in Pioneer history.
Both UW–Platteville (8–2) of the East and UW–La Crosse (7–3) of the West were the #1 seeds in their divisions. After four tiebreaker scenarios, a coin toss was needed to determine Friday night’s championship game host.
The illustrious end to an unprecedented season also becomes the fourth straight season earning a conference title for the 2021 seniors, Justin Stovall, Quentin Shields, Drew Gunnink, Alex Ranney, Justin Fox, Justin Jarvensivu and Braden Nies.
The NCAA cancelled all ot this year’s winter sports championships.
“I am extremely happy for this senior class to get another championship,” said head coach Jeff Gard. “As a tradition with Pioneer basketball, this senior class has led by example on and off the court all year long.
“I am proud to bring another Championship back to campus and the Platteville community. We wish our parents and fans could have been there to cheer us on. This one’s for you!”
It was undoubtably apparent during the night’s game that the perseverance, focus, and adaptability needed all year long on and off the court prepared the UW–Platteville squad for the night.
The Pioneers showcased their ability to execute at the highest level both on offense and defense after splitting with the Eagles just one week ago.
Led by its accomplished senior class, UW–Platteville held the Eagles to just 18 of 60 (30 percent) from the floor while four Pioneers scored in double figures as the balanced champs finished 45.1 percent (23 of 51) from the field.
With both teams knowing it was all on the line with the NCAA cancelling all Division III winter sport championships, the teams were hungry out of the gates and swapped baskets until the Pioneers built a five-point lead at the 15:59 mark, 12–7.
A quick three-point and jump shot by the Eagles had the game knotted 12–12 at 14:08.
A cold shooting streak for UW–Platteville mixed with UW–La Crosse turnovers had the Pioneers holding a mere 19–18 lead with 7:16 remaining in the first half.
Junior Blake McCann’s layup at the 6:54 mark lit the match for a 15–2 Pioneer run to end the half.
Fox, the 2021 WIAC Max Sparger Scholar–Athlete of the Year, burdened the Eagles during the Pioneers late half run tallying back-to-back steals and a defensive board.
To put one final mark on the half, the Eagles’ missed shot at 0:19 gave the Pioneers just enough time to set up Shields for a deep 3-point shot at the buzzer courtesy of freshman Logan Pearson.
With 20 minutes remaining in the season, the Pioneers’ momentum did not stop at the half and the 14-point lead was just the beginning for the defending WIAC regular season champs.
Stovall had junior Kyle Tuma’s back with a tip-in layup to start the half, and UW–La Crosse’s Sean Suchomel would answer back with a layup of his own as the Pioneers led 36–24 with 18:40 to go.
UW–La Crosse narrowed the lead to 10 points at 40–30, but a foul by the Eagles at the 17:10 mark sent Stovall to the line to shoot and make three free throws. The free points followed by Stovall’s three-point basket from Shields would become the start of a 26–6 point run for the Pioneers over the next 11 minutes.
With just five minutes remaining and a second tournament title in three seasons in view, the Pioneers had built a 30-point lead, 66–36 over the Eagles. UW–La Crosse would chip in 11 more points to UW–Platteville’s eight points before the final horn sounded.
The 27-point winning margin is the largest in a title game and sits seventh largest overall in the 23-year history of the tournament.
The Pioneers’ starting five combined for 61 of the total 74 points. Stovall led the Pioneers with 16 points while Tuma tallied 14 points, Shields 13 points, and Gunnink finished with 11. Tuma had a game high nine rebounds and three steals.
UW–Platteville finished the night 38.5 percent (10 of 26) from beyond the three-point arc and 72 percent (18 of 25) from the free throw line. The Eagles shot 23.8 percent (5 of 21) from three-point territory and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from the foul line.
The Pioneers outrebounded UW–La Crosse 42–35 and never allowed the Eagles to lead by more than one point during the conference finale.
UW–Platteville’s defense racked up six steals in the first half and held UW–La Crosse to just 32.4 percent (11 of 34) from the field with 1 of 11 from three-point range throughout the second half.
The Pioneers finished leading the WIAC statistically with a +8.3 scoring margin and +3.4 turnover margin.
The senior class now owns three regular season titles, two tournament titles and an overall record of 73–23 in their four years. The last Pioneer senior class to secure WIAC titles each of their four seasons was the 1998–99 national championship team.
WIAC Tournament Championship Game
UW–Platteville 74, UW–La Crosse 47
(from Friday, Feb. 26 @ La Crosse)
UW–La Crosse 34 40 — 74
UW–Platteville 20 27 — 47
UW–Platteville (7–3) — Drew Gunnink 11, Blake McCann 7, Quentin Shields 13, Kyle Tuma 14, Justin Stovall 16, Alex Ranney 2, Ben Probst 2, Ben Emler 2, Justin Fox 2. Totals — 23-51 18-25 74.
UW–La Crosse (8–2) — Wyatt Cook 13, Ethan Anderson 12, Craig Steele 2, Sean Suchomel 2, Seth Anderson 6. Henry Noone 3, Justin Siverston 1, Kort Justice 2, Austin Westra 6. Totals — 18-60 6-11 47.
3-point goals — P: 10-26 (Gunnink 2-5, Shields 4-4, Tuma 1-5, Stovall 2-3, Probst 1-2), L: 5-21 (Cook 3-5, Anderson 1-2, Noone 1-5). Team fouls — P: 15, P: 20. Fouled out — P: Fox.