MENOMONIE — UW-Stout women’s basketball wasn’t playing to its strengths — or UW-Eau Claire’s weaknesses, for that matter.
The Blue Devils, who entered Wednesday night’s War on 94 matchup tied for last in the WIAC in 3-point percentage, shot 18 times from deep in the first half. Only two went in, helping UWEC lead for nearly the entirety of the first 20 minutes.
“That’s credit to Eau Claire,” Stout head coach Hannah Iverson said. “They sagged off of us and they said, ‘If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to beat us on the 3-point line.’ And we just kept throwing it up there.”
The Blue Devils adjusted at the break, focusing on driving the lane and taking advantage of Eau Claire’s lack of size. The strategy worked, as Stout outscored its rival 46-24 in the second half en route to a 74-61 victory and the team’s first sweep of Eau Claire since the 2009-10 season.
“We haven’t done that at all in my four years here, so this is huge,” Stout guard Kyncaide Diedrich said. “It’s always big to get one win, let alone two wins.”
With the victory, Stout slid comfortably into the fourth slot in the WIAC standings at 6-5. The Blue Devils are up two games on the three teams on their tail.
Eau Claire moved ahead in the first quarter on a 14-4 run following an Amber Fabeck layup to tie the game at two. Stout responded with an eight-point run that extended into the second to cut the deficit to four, but Eau Claire’s Kelsey Bakken responded with a 3-pointer and the Blugolds led by at least five points the rest of the half.
Bakken ended the half with a 3-pointer, capping off an 8-4 run to give UWEC a 37-28 lead at the break.
Ironically, the 3-pointer helped the Blue Devils erase the deficit. Stout opened the second on a 10-2 run, featuring 3’s from Liz Oswald and Fabeck, to make it 39-38 Blugolds with 7:27 left in the third.
The teams traded baskets until Stout’s Shannan Watkins drove the lane and hit a layup to tie the game at 43 with 4:35 left in the third, the first tie since 2-2.
Bailey Diersen hit a pair of free throws to give Stout a 47-45 advantage just over a minute later and the Blue Devils never trailed the rest of the way.
“We came out in the second half with a point to make,” Iverson said. “We wanted to come out swinging and looking to get to the basket in different ways. Our defense fueled our offense. Once we started getting stops consistently, we started knocking down shots.”
The main beneficiary of the Blue Devils change in approach, and a large contributor to the team’s success, was Fabeck. She scored 17 of her 23 points in the second half.
“We just made sure we worked the shot clock and worked it around,” said Diedrich, who finished with 15 points. “Amber really stepped up in the second half. We tried to work the top-down, lob it up to her a lot and that kept working.”
The Blugolds, picked to finish second in the WIAC in the preseason poll, continue to slide. Eau Claire has lost six straight, with its last victory coming on Jan. 16 against UW-Platteville. At 4-7, the team is tied with Platteville and UW-Stevens Point for fifth in the league. One of the three teams will miss the conference tournament.
UW-Stout 74, UW-Eau Claire 61
Eau Claire (13-9, 4-7): Hallee Hoeppner 25, Katie Essen 13, Kelsey Bakken 8, Maddie Dunathan 7, Brooke Harris 4, Ellie Clayton 4.
Stout (16-6, 6-5): Amber Fabeck 23, Kyncaide Diedrich 15, Bailey Diersen 13, Liz Oswald 10, Carolyn Feddema 2, Shannan Watkins 6, Emily Jacques 5.
3-pointers: Eau Claire 5 (Hoeppner 2, Bakken 2, Dunathan), Stout 5 (Oswald 2, Fabeck, Diedrich, Diersen).
Halftime score: Eau Claire 37-28.