The University of Wisconsin-Platteville beat St. Olaf College 74-68 Saturday night on the Pioneers' Bo Ryan Court to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division III basketball championships.
UW-Platteville is making its eighth Sweet 16 appearance and first since the 1999 national championship season.
The eighth-ranked Pioneers will play Friday against Nebraska Wesleyan, an 82-61 winner over Aurora. UW-Stevens Point, ranked 23rd, and top-ranked Whitman will join the four-team pod in a site to be determined by the NCAA Sunday. The Friday winners will play Saturday for the right to advance to the NCAA III Final Four March 16-17 in Salem, Virginia.
"This is exciting for our students-athletes, the campus and the community," Pioneer Coach Jeff Gard said. "This community is truly a special place."
Austin Korba scored a game-high 20, while Frank Delany recorded 16, Robert Tobroxen 14 and Nate Albers 10 for St. Olaf, which finished 20-8.
UW-Platteville led 33-28 at the half, but each time it looked like the Pioneers would deliver the knockout blow in the final half, the Oles answered. The Pioneers' largest lead was 45-36 on a Voelker layup five minutes into the second period, but an Albers' three-pointer brought the visitors within 45-41. The hosts then went up 50-41, but St. Olaf caught up and took the lead at 56-55 on two Tobroxen free throws with 5:43 remaining.
A Duax basket gave the Pioneers the lead for good at 60-58 at 3:50. Leading 61-60, the Pioneers scored six straight points, capped by two Voelker free throws with 40 seconds left. Korba nailed a three-point basket with 34 seconds left, narrowing the deficit to 67-63. After Gerds made 1-2 free throws, St. Olaf's Ben Scheffley knocked down two free throws, making the score 68-65 with 18 seconds left. Quentin Shields made a pair of free throws for the Pioneers for a 70-65 lead. St. Olaf, however, wasn't done as Korba drilled another three-point basket. Shields and Gerds sealed the win with two free throws apiece in the final 10 seconds.
"This is an amazing atmosphere," Shields said. "It's an excellent feel when you are here and in it."
The Pioneers tied the 1987-88 squad for the most home victories in a season with 16, and their 16-1 mark is just one loss off the undefeated home records set by the 1991-92, 1993-94, 1994-95, 1997-98 and 1998-99 squads. With the victory, the Pioneers raised their all-time Williams Fieldhouse record to 502-183 since the facility opened in 1962-63.
"Our friends are here cheering us on, and they want us to win just as much as we do," Voelker said. "It's a huge factor in how we play when we have such awesome fans."
Both UW-Stevens Point and UW Oshkosh advanced Saturday, giving the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference three of the final 16 teams. WIAC teams have captured 12 of the previous 43 national NCAA III championships, with UW-Platteville, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater having won four apiece. Only North Park, with five, has more.
"This league prepares you," Gard said. "Many teams in the league deserve to be in the national tournament."
UW-Platteville improved to 33-6 all-time in playoff games, the best in NCAA III history. Friday's meeting with Nebraska Wesleyan is just the second time ever, with the first coming in 1968.
By Paul Erickson, Director, UW-Platteville Communications, 608.342.1194, firstname.lastname@example.org