The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point women’s basketball team is, once again, Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion.
The Pointers won Thursday’s semifinal game against UW-River falls, 70-60, and won the championship Saturday, defeating UW-Whitewater 81-60.
Thursday’s game proved to be a challenge for the Pointers, as River Falls pulled out to an early 15-7 lead by the halfway mark in the first half. Eventually Stevens Point would answer, ending the half on a 16-2 run and a 32-26 lead.
The Pointers continued where they left off after halftime, bringing the lead to 14 points with 14:20 remaining in the game.
But the Falcons did not give up, staging a comeback to tie the game at 54 a piece with 6:58 remaining.
Eventually the Pointers would pull away in the final minutes, securing their spot in the conference championship.
“I’m proud of how we fought back after digging ourselves in a hole,” said Stevens Point head coach Shirley Egner.
One of the keys for the Pointers pulling away Thursday was the bench, which contributed 14 points during the second half.
“Our bench was outstanding tonight,” said Egner. “Our bench is our greatest strength.”
The Pointers had four players score in double digits, with senior guard Cassie Bandow contributing a game-high 16 points.
Junior guard Sam Barber pitched in 12 points and a team-high seven boards. Senior post Ashley Averkamp and sophomore post Myranda Tyler both added 10 points.
The Falcons were led by senior forward Alise Holst, who tallied a team-high 14 points.
“This was a good test for us today,” Egner said. “This is what playoff basketball is all about.”
In Saturday’s championship contest between the Pointers and the Warhawks, the game looked like it could have gone either way, with ten lead changes, and seven ties in the first half.
Even with the back and forth game, Stevens Point held a 42-36 advantage going into halftime.
Going into the second half, the Pointers finally got their lead to 10, with 12:55 left in the game.
The Pointers put the game away by connecting on four free throws after a double technical was given to Warhawks’ senior forward Chantel Burg.
After two more free throws the Pointers held their biggest lead of the night at 21, and ended up winning 81-60.
“It was a gutsy performance by our kids tonight,” Egner said.
Stevens Point was led by Barber, who had a team-high 20 points, going 4-6 from beyond the arc.
Bandow also added 19 points and scored her 1,000th career point, joining only 18 other Pointer women basketball players.
Junior guard Brooke Allen scored a career-high 15 points. Tyler was the game’s leading rebounder with nine. UW-Whitewater was led by junior center Cortney Kumerow, who had 16 points and seven rebounds.
“It feels like all our hard work during preseason and the actual season just continues to pay off game by game,” Tyler said. “It's so exciting knowing we've made it this far and have even more to accomplish.”
With the win, the Pointers have now earned five conference championships in a row, and guaranteed their spot in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“To be able to win the conference championship tournament for the fifth year in a row is incredible, especially when playing in a tough, competitive conference,” Bandow said.
The WIAC will have four participants in this year’s NCAA tournament, the most since 1995. Besides Stevens Point, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Whitewater and UW-River Falls all earned bids to the tourney.
The Pointers will start the tournament on Friday against Franklin College, who has a 25-2 record on the season. The game will be played at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Our team has the experience and depth to make a long run in the tournament,” Bandow said.