After many tried and failed, a team from the WIAC finally found a way to put the clamps on an explosive UW-Eau Claire offense.
It just took the conference’s best defense to do it.
UW-Oshkosh held Eau Claire to its season-low in points, riding a rock-solid defense to a 58-43 win at Zorn Arena on Wednesday.
The matchup pitted the WIAC’s top scoring offense against the league’s stingiest defense. This time, defense won the day. The Blugolds were held to fewer than 60 points for the first time this season.
“I told my team you can’t go from averaging 73 points a game and leading the league in offense to putting up 43,” Eau Claire coach Tonja Englund said. “Credit to Oshkosh and their defense. They play physical, they play tough.”
Hallee Hoeppner was one of the lone bright spots for the Blugolds offensively. She scored 19 points, a solid follow-up to her career-best 36 point game on Saturday.
But none of the other Blugolds reached double figures, and Eau Claire shot 34 percent from the field.
After falling behind in the first half, Eau Claire opened the second half with an 11-4 run and tied the game at 29 on a Brooke Harris jumper midway through the third quarter.
The Blugolds’ full-court press produced several traps in dangerous positions and forced Oshkosh into seven turnovers in the period.
But the 12th-ranked Titans quickly regained their composure and responded with an 11-2 run later in the third to restore their cushion and cruised from there.
A cold stretch from the field through most of the fourth quarter dimmed the Blugolds’ hopes of making a comeback. Eau Claire scored five points through the first eight minutes of the period and missed several shots from close range.
It wasn’t the first time Eau Claire struggled to get the ball through the hoop either. Oshkosh went on a 13-2 run to close out the first quarter and give itself an early lead to work with. The Blugolds endured a long scoring drought during the second quarter and only managed to score six points in the period.
“They’re very good at their man-to-man defense,” Hoeppner said. “They did a good job of jumping to the ball, so we weren’t able to get a lot of dribble-drive going and were kind of struggling to get that post touch at times.”
Nobody but Hoeppner could get things going in the first half. She scored 10 of the team’s 18 first-half points, and nobody else scored more than three. The Blugolds shot 29 percent from the field and committed 11 turnovers in the first two quarters.
Two free throws by Maddie Dunathan served as Eau Claire’s only points in the final 4:30 of the first half.
“This was the first time the offense has kind of had the bottom fall out of it,” Englund said. “You could just see that we looked like we were out of sync at times.”
The Titans didn’t have much luck offensively in the second quarter either. They mustered eight points, but their surge late in the first quarter was enough to help them take a 25-18 lead into the halftime break despite a 28 percent first-half field goal percentage.
The injury-depleted Blugolds got just two points from their bench, but still managed to hang around with the conference-leading Titans for most of the game.
“If Oshkosh is ranked 12th in the country, considering we’re short-handed, we’re right there,” Englund said.
Hoeppner was a huge part of keeping the Blugolds in the fight. She’s averaging 21.4 points per contest over her last five games.
The Blugolds return to action on Saturday when they host UW-Stevens Point at 5 p.m.
UW-Oshkosh 58, UW-Eau Claire 43
Oshkosh (16-2, 6-1): Olivia Campbell 13, Chloe Pustina 4, Leah Porath 4, Melanie Schneider 5, Isabella Samuels 10, Brooke Freitag 6, Jessie Rabas 5, Karsyn Rueth 6, Nikki Arneson 5.
Eau Claire (13-5, 4-3): Maddie Dunathan 6, Kelsey Bakken 9, Caryn Donahue 3, Hallee Hoeppner 19, Brooke Harris 4, Elli Carver 2.
3-pointers: Oshkosh 7 (Campbell 2, Freitag 2, Pustina, Rabas, Arneson), Eau Claire 4 (Dunathan, Bakken, Donahue, Hoeppner).
Halftime score: Oshkosh 25-18.