Both the UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout men’s basketball teams are carrying three-game losing streaks as WIAC play begins to heat up. The skids have put an added importance on Wednesday’s rivalry meeting in Menomonie.
The Blugolds closed out nonconference play with a 68-60 defeat to St. Olaf, and dropped WIAC contests to UW-Platteville and UW-Whitewater last week. The Blue Devils wrapped up their nonconference slate with a loss to Calvin, and saw two upset bids come up short against UW-La Crosse and UW-Platteville last week.
Each side will look to get back on track when they meet at Johnson Fieldhouse. One team will see its slump end, while the other will be left with even more work to do to bounce back.
The Blue Devils enter with a 10-5 record and 1-3 mark in conference play. They faced two ranked foes last week in No. 11 La Crosse and No. 2 Platteville, and were in each game until the finish. It’s been a step forward for the program this year, but they’re aiming to make more noise in the vaunted WIAC.
“The league is good, and there are a lot of great coaches and players,” Blue Devils coach Jim Lake told the Leader-Telegram last month. “I don’t think anyone outside of Stout is all that interested in seeing us get out of this basement and be good.
“We’ve been working our tails off to get to this point. And now it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s keep going.’ There’s no point in being satisfied right now.”
The Blugolds are 8-7 overall and 1-3 in the WIAC entering the rivalry matchup. They couldn’t overcome a cold shooting night against second-ranked Platteville, and fell just a bit short to Whitewater 77-72 their last time out.
A chunk of Stout’s success this season can be attributed to Lovell Williams’ play. The sophomore point guard leads the WIAC in scoring at 19.5 points per game and is second in assists with 5.7 per game. Defensively, his 1.7 steals per game rank fourth in the conference.
Guard Armani Tinsley (14.7 ppg) and forward Jon Ciriacks (11.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) have also been able to cause problems for opposing defenses.
The team’s efforts across the board have led to their best start to a season since the 2012-13 campaign. This is the first time the Blue Devils have had 10 wins by the end of December since then.
“This is the most special team I’ve played with, for real,” Williams said in December. “I came from a winning program in high school, but when I got here it was just a different type of energy. Guys want to win and they’re going to do whatever it takes to do so, and I feel like that’s special.”
The Blugolds started the season 4-0, but won four of their following 11 games. They’ve taken a balanced approach to this point. Forward Brock Voigt leads the way with 14.3 points per game, and guards Michael Casper (11.3 ppg) and Spencer Page (10.1 ppg) also score in double figures.
Like the Blue Devils, the Blugolds have gone through a gauntlet in their first four conference games. Three of their four opponents so far are either ranked in the top 25 nationally or received votes in the poll.
“It’s really high competition in DIII,” Casper said last week.
Women clash at Zorn
Wednesday’s women’s matchup will see 11th-ranked UW-Eau Claire try to bounce back at home against the Blue Devils.
The Blugolds (11-3, 2-1) fell to eighth-ranked UW-Whitewater 73-64 on Saturday in a clash of title contenders. They’ll look to get back on track against Stout (7-7, 2-2), a team they’ve beaten in four straight meetings.
Eau Claire features the WIAC’s leading scorer. Guard Jessie Ruden is averaging 17.4 points per game this season. Forward Tyra Boettcher, a Menomonie native, is close behind at 14.6 points per contest. She didn’t play against Whitewater.
The Blugolds are particularly reliant on their starters — three of their five regulars average more than 30 minutes per game. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, often turn to their bench for important minutes. Second-leading scorer Raegan Sorensen (11.6 ppg) comes off the bench. Amanda Giesen leads the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game. Anna Mutch is in the mix too at 11.4 ppg.
The Blue Devils picked up their second conference victory with a coast-to-coast 60-45 defeat of UW-Platteville on Saturday. They also scored a win over UW-River Falls in December.
Eau Claire hasn’t lost in the rivalry series since 2019. The Blugolds lead the all-time series 69-29.