MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Jan. 31–Feb. 7)
SRW BOYS BASKTBALL: Potosi 61, River Ridge 38
By A.J. Gates, Herald Independent / Tri-County Press
Wunderlin, Chieftains hammer Timberwolves for Coach Mike Uppena's 300th career win
POTOSI — One butt kicking deserves another.
With a smile on his face and a shake of his head, those were the words uttered by River Ridge boys’ basketball coach Tom Neises as he and Potosi coach Mike Uppena exchanged greetings at the conclusion of last Tuesday night’s Six Rivers West conference showdown.
Coach Neises’ Timberwolves, who came into the contest with an unblemished conference record of 7–0, had just been handed their first league loss of the season, and in convincing fashion, 61–38.
With the win, coach Uppena’s Chieftains improved to 8–1 in league play, their only conference loss of the season coming to the Timberwolves on Dec. 16, also in convincing fashion, 66–44.
The Chieftains (13–4, 8–1) are now a half game ahead off the Timberwolves (15–4, 7–1) in the Six Rivers West standings, with Potosi having to play league games against Belmont (Feb. 14), Shullsburg (Feb. 17) and Benton (Feb. 23), while River Ridge still has to play Shullsburg (Feb. 14), Belmont (Feb. 23) and Highland twice (Feb. 9&16).
If either team wants to claim a share of this year’s league title, the formula is simple.
“I think we have proven that we are the top two teams in the conference, so a split is very normal,” said Neises. “Now the question is, can both teams win the rest of their games and share it. That will be our challenge.”
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Uppena said. “We have to go to Benton and Shullsburg the last two games of the year, and we haven’t played well at their place, ever.”
Though last Tuesday night’s outcome certainly plays an impact on this year’s conference title, it also had historic significance for each of the two coaches as well.
For coach Uppena, Tuesday night’s victory was his 300th career coaching win, giving him a 21-year record of 300–198.
“It’s all about all the players we’ve had. I mean I haven’t taken a single shot in any of the games. It’s about the players and what they do and them buying into what you’re trying to accomplish,” Uppena said of the accomplishment.
For coach Neises, Tuesday night’s loss ended an impressive 32-game conference winning streak that stretched back to a 64–63 double overtime loss to coach Uppena on Feb. 14, 2020. In this, his fourth season at River Ridge, Neises has accumulate a career conference record of 42–2.
“I told the kids after the game, this is our first conference loss in over three years,” said Neises. “That’s not so bad. You know, I played in this conference and I know about the rivalries and how difficult that is.”
Behind eight straight points from Potosi senior point guard Sam Udelhofen, the Chieftains held a 10–6 advantage at the midway point of the first half.
In the final eight minutes of the opening half, Potosi outscored the Timberwolves, 12–5, taking a 22–13 lead into the locker room at intermission.
The two teams exchanged basket for the first five and a half minutes of the second half, with Potosi taking their largest lead of 13, and River Ridge getting as close as nine.
With 12:30 to play in the contest, a 2-point field goal by River Ridge senior Braden Crubel pulled the Timberwolves to within 34–23, which was as close as coach Neises’ squad would get to the rest of the way.
Potosi followed with a 10–0 run, which extended the lead to 44–23 with 10:06 to play, and eventually took their largest lead of the game at 53–27 four minutes later on a sweet assist by Gavin Wunderlin to an open Aidan Uppena under the basket.
The Timberwolves were unable to make any kind of a comeback in the final six minutes, as the Chieftains held on for a 23-point victory, redeeming themselves from their 22-point loss to the River Ridge earlier in the season.
Since the holiday break, coach Uppena’s squad has seemingly found its identity, which comes from an aggressive defensive mindset that was on full display Tuesday night.
“Our defense has improved a lot for sure,” Uppena said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it creates offense for us sometimes. They’re excited for a challenge defensively and they’re taking pride in it right now.
“We’ve developed into a team that has multiple guys who can guard different types of players, so we can keep throwing people at any of the team’s best player, where other teams might not have that luxury.”
Offensively, Potosi did a particularly good job of attacking the basket, outscoring the Timberwolves, 36–18, in the paint.
Leading the charge for the Chieftains was junior Gavin Wunderlin, who scored a game-high 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Wunderlin was particularly big in the second half, where he scored 20 points and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. Wunderlin also led Potosi in assists with four, and in steals with three.
Sam Udelhofen chipped in 16 points, going 4-of-8 from downtown, and scoring a team-high 11 points in the first half. He also pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for a double-double. Adding eight points for the Chieftains was Dawson Weber, followed by six from Dayton Udelhofen.
The Timberwolves got a team-high 20 points from Braden Crubel, who was 8-of-24 from the field, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range. After being limited to just two points in the first half, Crubel scored 18 in the second. He also pulled down a team-high five rebounds and had a team-high three steals in the loss.
“One thing I’ll say about Potosi is they have the look of a team that could make a pretty good run in Division 5,” Neises said. “Based on the teams that we have played and that I’ve seen, I think Mike’s team has a chance. I don’t know what’s up north, but I think they have a really good chance.”
In last Friday night’s Six Rivers Challenge, Potosi defeated Argyle 78–57, while River Ridge won over Barneveld 55-48 as the West swept all seven games in the SRC crossover event where the first place teams in each conference played, the second place teams and so on.
The Chieftains got a team-high 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists from Sam Udelhofen, while Wunderlin chipped in 21 points, followed by 11 from Aidan Uppena.
Potosi traveled to East Dubuque Tuesday night for a non-conference game and will now have a week between games before hosting Belmont (2–17, 0–8) Tuesday, Feb. 14.
Potosi 61, River Ridge 38
(from Tuesday, Jan. 31 @ Potosi)
River Ridge............13 25 — 38
Potosi......................22 39 — 61
River Ridge (14–4, 7–1) — Brady Bunge 5, Carter Copsey 3, Braden Crubel 20, Matthew Nies 8, Luke Patterson 2. Totals — 15-56 5-5 38.
Potosi (12–4, 8–1) — Sam Udelhofen 16, Dayton Udelhofen 6, Dawson Weber 8, Oliver Post 2, Isaiah Groom 2, Aidan Uppena 2, Gavin Wunderlin 25. Totals — 25-55 7-10 61.
3-point goals — RR: 3-19 (Bunge 1, Copsey 1, Crubel 1); P: 4-13 (S. Udelhofen 4). Team fouls — RR: 14, P: 10. Fouled out — none.