It was a game destined to be decided by guards. Both teams’ lineups were littered with them.
Fullcourt defense. Fast tempo. Three-pointers flying.
Luckily for UW-Eau Claire, it had the best guard in the gym.
George Diekelman keyed a late surge, and UW-Eau Claire got some payback on UW-Stout with a 77-68 victory in WIAC men’s basketball action Wednesday night on Ken Anderson Court in Zorn Arena.
“Diekelman was the man tonight,” UW-Stout coach Eddie Andrist said.
Diekelman, the 6-foot-3 all-conference senior, scored 12 of his game-high 27 points in the final 6 minutes, 58 seconds to help the Blugolds (10-10, 2-7) return the favor after the Blue Devils beat them 65-51 on Jan. 17 in Menomonie. His 3-point play at the 6:58 mark snapped a tie and sparked an 8-2 mini-run that gave UW-Eau Claire a lead it never relinquished.
“We finally broke through, made a run of our own and strung some stops together,” Diekelman said. “I think that was big on the defensive end.”
UW-Eau Claire tightened up its defense in the second half, holding UW-Stout to 37.1 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes. That was after watching the Blue Devils knock down seven 3s in the first half.
Sam Ortmann led the way for UW-Stout, scoring 13 of his 15 points before halftime. Zach Dahl finished with a team-high 18, while Isaac Elliott also scored 15.
“I thought we were a little tighter on them in the second half, forced them into some tougher shots,” UW-Eau Claire coach Matt Siverling said. “I think that was the difference in the basketball game.”
Clay Kujawa added 15 points for the Blugolds, while Dan Becken had 10.
Knowing the full-court pressure and perimeter-heavy game that awaited him, Siverling went to his bench early and often to keep his starters fresh for the stretch run. Twelve Blugolds saw action in the first half. That included early minutes for reserve guards Ben Widdes, Sean Miller, Montrell Oliver, Kyle McDonald and Blake Wacholz. Diekelman and Chris Duff were the only Blugolds to play 30 minutes or more.
That rest paid off down the stretch.
“That was good for our starters to get some rest there in the first half,” Siverling said. “Because when you play Stout, they’re going to force you to play 94 feet the entire game. It’s really difficult to sustain the energy.”
NOTES: Diekelman and Elliott know each other well. Both are Stevens Point natives. Diekelman attended Stevens Point Area Senior High, while Elliott went to Pacelli. Wednesday likely was their last head-to-head meeting. “I grew up with Ike,” Diekelman said. “We trained a lot together. It was fun to play him one last time.” ... The Blugolds’ Cam Kuepers had a key four-point play with 26 seconds left in the first half. That, combined with two Diekelman free throws, allowed UW-Eau Claire to erase a six-point deficit and go into halftime tied. “We’ve got to go into half ahead,” Andrist said. “That’s how you lose basketball games.”