There’s a reason UW-Whitewater is ranked fifth in the country.
Take away one weapon, and the Warhawks will just find another.
UW-Eau Claire took away the perimeter game Wednesday night. UW-Whitewater responded by getting to the rim, finishing and leaving Zorn Arena with a 78-65 victory in WIAC men’s basketball action on Ken Anderson Court.
“I thought our defense for the most part was pretty good,” UW-Eau Claire coach Matt Siverling said. “Guys were out there competing and battling. For the most part they weren’t getting anything easy.”
The Blugolds (8-6, 0-3) wanted to run the Warhawks (12-2, 2-1) off the 3-point line, and for good reason. They came into the game shooting 43.3 percent from 3. And despite shooting just 5-for-21 from deep Wednesday, UW-Whitewater still found a way to shoot 52.7 percent from the floor. With a nice collection of strong, quick perimeter players, the Warhawks attacked the basket off the dribble and found an answer for every Blugolds run.
The Warhawks don’t start a conventional post player. That’s part of what makes them tough to guard. Andre Brown, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored 25 points to lead the way. Mitchell Pfeifer, a 6-foot-3 wing, added 21 points and seven rebounds. David Sachs, a 6-foot-2 guard, scored 11 points.
“We did a good job attacking the basket,” UW-Whitewater coach Pat Miller said. “This was a night where we didn’t shoot particularly well from 3.”
Chris Duff scored 21 points to lead three Blugolds in double figures.
George Diekelman had 17 points, while Ben Widdes — making his first start for UW-Eau Claire — had 10 points.
To counter the Warhawks’ quickness, the Blugolds played a lot of smaller lineups. That included a brief stretch in which the 6-foot-4 Duff, who’s listed as a guard on the gameday program, was the nominal five man.
Duff feasted out of the mid post, particuarly in the first half. He scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half on a variety of turnaround jumpers. He finished the game 9-for-11 from the floor and didn’t miss a shot from 2-point range.
“We tried to front him more than we were,” Miller said. “We wanted to start the game no catch on him. Because obviously he’s a great weapon. It was inexplicable that he got the looks that he got throughout the first half.”
UW-Eau Claire still shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half but had to work for its offensive looks. UW-Whitewater cranked up its defensive pressure in crunch time. That forced the Blugolds farther away from the 3-point line and threw off the timing of some of their offensive sets. It also made it a lot tougher to make entry passes into Duff.
The Blugolds countered with backdoor cuts and hung tough. After seeing a three-point halftime deficit balloon to as many as 11, they were back within four when Widdes hit back-to-back 3s with 6 minutes, 58 seconds to play. But as was the case all night, the Warhawks weren’t flustered and found a reponse.
Pfeifer hit a big 3 to push the lead back to seven with 4:02 left and scored in transition after a Blugolds turnover 30 seconds later.
That doomed UW-Eau Claire to an 0-3 start to the conference slate despite an encouraging performance.
“I’m still encouraged. I’m encouraged that those guys went out and battled,” Siverling said. “We knew it was going to be tough. I like the heart that they’re showing. That’s something we need to do, regardless of what the record is.”