By Travis Nyhus, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) –The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire women's basketball team put together an outstanding fourth quarter to come back and defeat the UW-Stevens Point Pointers 56-53 in the opening game of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tournament (presented by Culver's).
Trailing 39-30 entering the final quarter, the Blugolds outscored the Pointers 26-14 thanks to 12 points in a span of two and a half minutes from Kelsey Bakken (So. – Marshall, WI).
It was another slow start from the Blugolds, something that plagued them over the last few games of the regular season. Stevens Point opened up the scoring by knocking down a 3-pointer. Hallee Hoeppner (So. – Winona, MN) responded for Eau Claire with a triple of her own.
That was the only field goal for the Blugolds for almost the first eight minutes of the game. Eau Claire made one of their first 10 shots from the field and found themselves down 13-4.
Brooke Harris (So. – Green Bay, WI/Bay Port) did what she could to keep her team in it. Two short jumpers a few possessions apart cut the Blugold deficit to seven with 34 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
The cold shooting from the Blugolds stretched into the next quarter. A 5-0 run by the Pointers made it 20-8 two minutes into period.
At the 6:18 mark of the second quarter, Anna Graaskamp (So. – Eau Claire, WI/Memorial) finally got Eau Claire on the board, but that only trimmed Stevens Point's lead to 24-10.
Needing a spark, Eau Claire looked to Maddie Dunathan (Fr. – Hortonville, WI). The point guard had a 5-0 spurt by herself as she made a free throw to cap off a three point play with about three minutes remaining before the half that cut Stevens Point's lead under double digits.
The Pointers pushed their lead back up to 12 points in the final minute, but Dunathan again made a play, scoring with just seconds remaining before the break. At the half, the Blugold trailed 29-19.
Out of the locker room Eau Claire knew they needed a strong second half with their season on the line. Hoeppner opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, which was quickly matched by the Pointers.
Hoeppner maintained focus scoring two more times, all part of a Blugolds 6-0 run making it a four point game. Katie Essen (Fr. –Farmington, MN/Rosemount), who had a career game on Saturday against the Pointers, made it a two point game with 4:29 remaining in the quarter.
This generated a Stevens Point timeout. Out of stoppage, the Pointers outscored the Blugolds 7-0 to close the quarter.
As the final frame began the Pointers looked poised to knock off the Blugolds in back-to-back games and they converted from deep to lead 42-30 after the first minute and a half.
It was still a 12-point deficit at the 5:35 mark of the quarter, when Dunathan found the range from distance on a shot that ignited the offense. Less than a minute later, Bakken also made a 3-pointer. This one made it 44-38.
The two teams traded 3-pointers on each of their next possessions, with the Eau Claire one coming once again from Dunathan.
With 3:30 left in the game and still down eight, the Blugolds looked to Bakken and she delivered, making her second fourth quarter shot from deep. Then she completed a three-point play on the next possession.
Bakken couldn't be stopped as she did everything she could to make sure the season continued. Her third bucket from distance in the quarter cut the deficit to just one, 51-50 with 2:19 left.
After the Pointers made one of two free throws, the next time down the court Eau Claire looked for Graaskamp and she tied things up.
Eau Claire's first lead of the game came as Jenni LaCroix (Sr. – Verona, WI) scored a layup with just 28 seconds to go in the game.
Stevens Point had a chance to even things at the line, but only made one free throw. Graaskamp on the other side did one better and Eau Claire pulled ahead by what became the final score as the Pointers missed a shot trailing by three with time running out.
Eau Claire shot 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) from the field, 7 of 14 from deep and 5 of 6 at the line.
Dunathan had a team-high 13 points. All 12 of Bakken's points came in the final quarter and she led the team with nine rebounds. Hoeppner scored 11 points and had six rebounds.
The Blugolds (18-8) will travel to No. 1 seeded UW-Whitewater on Thursday with tipoff set for 7 p.m.
Follow the action on Blugold Game Day.