MENOMONIE — UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball is clicking at the right time.
Cole Rabedeaux scored 21 points for the Blugolds as the team won its third game in a row, this time coming back from a six-point halftime deficit in a 70-61 road victory against the rival UW-Stout Blue Devils.
“Knowing where we’re at in the conference and that they want to get a win and they’re at home tonight, it was one we definitely wanted to come in and at least play well,” Eau Claire coach Matt Siverling said.
The Blugolds moved to 6-5, good for a tie for fourth place in the WIAC and three games up on UW-Whitewater and UW-River Falls with three games left on the regular-season schedule.
“We know we’re still going to have to battle all the way to the end and not take any nights off,” Siverling said.
Stout, still looking for its first win in the WIAC and first conference win under coach Jim Lake, made sure it wasn’t easy. The Blue Devils outrebounded their rivals to the east by seven in the first half and forced the Blugolds into multiple shot clock violations.
Eau Claire, which earned the War on 94 sweep, opened the game hitting five of its first six 3-point attempts but missed its next eight as the Blue Devils did a good job of staying with defenders.
“Stout does a good job of speeding you up,” Siverling said. “You’re not used to playing that way, so when they speed you up that way sometimes the shots are coming quicker than you’re used to. That’s when they don’t fall.”
Jon Ciriacks, who finished with 14 points, led the Blue Devils into the break up 38-32 thanks to his 11 points.
The second half was incredibly streaky, starting with an Eau Claire 14-2 run to start the frame thanks to a trio of 3-pointers. That gave the Blugolds a 46-40 lead that wouldn’t last long. Stout responded with an 8-0 run of its own to move ahead 48-46 only to give up a run of the same size right after.
The last UWEC run gave the Blugolds a six-point lead which they held the rest of the way.
“They got more determined to get the ball into the lane,” Lake said. “The quiet part is, in the first half we were plus-seven on the glass. They pulled to within even. … I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with what they were doing.”
Stout got within five points twice in the closing minutes, first after a Zach Dahl basket through contact and free throw and second from a D’Marcco Patrick runner, but the Blugolds stayed poised and sealed the game on free throws.
“They’re playing like they want to keep their season going,” Lake said. “Their will was maybe a little bit more than ours, especially at the start of that second half. I think a lot of things were moving in the right direction for us in the first half. … In a game where it’s 70-61, that’s the run that won the game.”
The Blue Devils dropped to 0-11 but continued to show they aren’t a pushover, no matter who they’re playing.
“This league’s tough,” Silverling said of Stout’s record not representing the team. “I know Coach Lake is doing a phenomenal job and those guys are continuing to play hard, regardless of what their record is.”
Stout hosts UW-Whitewater on Saturday at 3 p.m., while the Blugolds travel to UW-La Crosse for a 5 p.m. tipoff. While Eau Claire is jostling for postseason position, all the Blue Devils have to play for is pride.
“We’re not going to skip any of these practices,” Lake said. “We’re going to go out and compete and try to get our first WIAC win.”
UW-Eau Claire 70, UW-Stout 61
Eau Claire (13-9, 6-5): Steve Christiansen 3, Ben Widdes 18, Cole Rabedeaux 21, Cam Kuepers 16, Wilyam Wright 5, Spencer Page 3, Sean Miller 4.
Stout (6-16, 0-11): D’Marcco Patrick 7, Garret Parks 6, Luke Geiger 8, Jon Ciriacks 14, Zach Dahl 11, Braden Walbeck 12, Kyle Williams 2, Brandon Gilbertson 1.
3-pointers: Eau Claire 11 (Widdes 3, Rabedeaux 3, Kuepers 2, Christiansen, Wright, Page), Stout 6 (Ciriacks 2, Dahl 2, Walbeck, Patrick).
Halftime score: Stout 38-32.