Falcons deny Pioneers in WIAC playoffs

Robert Duax scored 22 against UW-River Falls and collected his 1,000th career point.
Robert Duax scored 22 against UW-River Falls and collected his 1,000th career point.

Fourth-seeded UW-River Falls upended host and top seed UW-Platteville 71-66 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference postseason tournament semifinals Friday on Bo Ryan Court.

By scoring the game's final eight points, the Falcons (18-8) advanced to Sunday's WIAC championship game at second-seeded UW-Stevens Point (18-8). The victor will earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA III national playoffs.

The Pioneers, 22-4 overall and ranked fifth nationally by D3hoops.com, will learn if they earn an at-large bid Monday at 11:30 a.m. Coach Jeff Gard's team will gather on Bo Ryan Court to watch the brackets announcement live.

"It will be a new day tomorrow," Gard said. "The big thing for us is to come back and get focused and use this to light the fire as we get ready for the NCAA tournament."

The Pioneers and the Falcons met for the second time in seven days, with the Pioneers claiming an 81-69 victory last Saturday that clinched the team's 20th WIAC regular-season championship. Friday marked the first time since 1989 that UW-Platteville played back-to-back games against the same opponent.

In last Saturday's contest, the Falcons made just two field goals in the entire first half, a mark they surpassed just three minutes in Friday. UWRF jumped out to an early 13-2 lead. The Falcons led 24-12 before the Pioneers scored eight straight points. The visitors made 57 percent of their first-half shots and held a 37-30 advantage at the break.

"You have to give credit to Falls," Gard said. "They had a hard-fought game with Whitewater (in Wednesday's quarterfinals) and were running on that high. When shots are falling, that helps too. That was the difference between playing them Saturday and playing them tonight. Shots fell for them. Saturday, they shoot 8 percent and tonight they shoot 57 percent in the first half. That's a huge difference."

The Pioneers quickly closed the halftime deficit to 39-35, but the Falcons ripped off seven straight points for a 46-35 lead. It was UW-Platteville's turn for a run, and a 12-2 run brought the hosts within 48-47 with nine minutes remaining.

"Guys kept their composure. They didn't press," Gard said. "We had opportunities."

UW-Platteville came within 61-60 3:14 to play, when Matt Oestreich put back in a rebound shot, was fouled and scored the free throw. On the ensuing possession, Carter Voelker stole the ball, drove the length of the floor and scored for the Pioneers' first lead, 62-61. Voelker's two free throws gave the regular-season champions a 66-63 lead with 2:03 remaining.

UW-River Falls' Matt Keller drained a three-point basket with 56 seconds left for a 67-66 lead, and with 12.6 seconds remaining, Devin Buckley banked in a long three-pointer with the shot clock running out for a 70-66 lead that stunned the 1,025 in attendance. Austin Heidecker made 1-2 from the line with six seconds left for the 71-66 final.

"That's playoff basketball," Gard said. "There's a reason it's called March Madness. You never know what's going to happen and who is going to get hot."

Robert Duax led the Pioneers with 22 points and scored his 1,000th career point in the process. Quentin Shields added 18 points, and Oestreich had 12.

Alex Herink scored 18 for the Falcons before fouling out, while Brennan Witt had 17 and Keller 15.


By Paul Erickson, Director, UW-Platteville Communications, 608.342.1194, pr@uwplatt.edu