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Fourth-Quarter Surge Helps Titans Regain WIAC Lead

Playing in her 101st career game, Chloe Pustina set a personal best with 15 points against the Eagles.
Playing in her 101st career game, Chloe Pustina set a personal best with 15 points against the Eagles.

UW-Oshkosh reclaimed the top spot in the WIAC women's basketball standings with a 60-48 win over UW-La Crosse behind a career-high 15 points from Chloe Pustina during a matchup of nationally ranked teams Saturday (Jan. 19) in La Crosse.

UW-Oshkosh (15-2, 5-1 WIAC), ranked 12th in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, handed 23rd-ranked UW-La Crosse (15-2, 4-2) its first home loss and held the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season by outscoring the hosts, 23-10, during the fourth quarter of a meeting between two of the top defenses in the country.

UW-La Crosse, which had its seven-game home winning streak snapped, was held to 2-for-13 shooting from the field over the final seven minutes as UW-Oshkosh closed the game with an 18-4 scoring run. The Titans regained the lead for good at 45-44 on a 3-pointer from Pustina with 6:11 remaining. Nikki Arneson and Olivia Campbell added layups on the next two UW-Oshkosh possessions to extend the Titans' lead to 49-44.

Jessie Rabas later sank a 3-point shot that increased the Titans' advantage to 52-46 and ignited a string of eight unanswered points as Arneson, Pustina, Rabas, Isabella Samuels and Melanie Schneider each split a pair of free throws for a 57-46 UW-Oshkosh lead with 51 seconds to go. UW-La Crosse was held scoreless for nearly four minutes until a layup by Delaney Schoenenberger cut the Eagles' deficit to 57-48 with 40 seconds left.

UW-Oshkosh, which held its 13th opponent this season to less than 50 points, entered Saturday ranked third in the nation by yielding just 46.2 points per game while UW-La Crosse was 12th at 49.6.

The Titans, who improved to 5-1 in league play for the fifth time in six seasons, are now alone atop the conference standings by virtue of their win over the Eagles and UW-Eau Claire's (13-4, 4-2 WIAC) 81-76 loss to UW-Stout (14-3, 4-2) on Saturday.

UW-Oshkosh shot 32.1 percent (17-53) from the field, 28.6 percent (6-21) from 3-point range and 58.8 percent (20-34) at the free throw line. The Titans, who improved to 5-0 on the road this season, held advantages in rebounds (51-36), assists (8-5) and steals (2-1) while the Eagles held edges in turnovers (8-12) and blocks (8-4).

UW-La Crosse shot 28.8 percent (17-59) from the floor, 23.8 percent (5-21) from beyond the 3-point arc and 100 percent (9-9) at the foul line. The Eagles, who allowed their most rebounds in a game since the 2015-16 season, were limited to their fewest steals and made field goals of the year and their second-lowest field goal percentage. UW-La Crosse's previous season low was 55 points scored.

Pustina surpassed her previous career high of 14 points by shooting 5-for-14 from the field, including a trio of 3-point baskets.

Schneider added 10 points for her 17th career double-digit scoring effort.

Arneson and Samuels chipped in seven points apiece off the UW-Oshkosh bench while starter Karsyn Rueth scored six points and led all players with a career-high nine rebounds and three assists.

UW-La Crosse reserve Ava Kramer paced the Eagles with 13 points and six rebounds.

Schoenenberger added 10 points for the Eagles, who also received eight points from Dani Craig and seven from Carly Coulthart. UW-La Crosse's top two scorers on the season – Craig and Emma Gamoke – combined for 11 points on 5-for-24 shooting from the field, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range. The duo went into Saturday averaging a combined 25.3 points per game while ranking first and second in the conference in made 3-pointers.

UW-Oshkosh scored the first five points of the game on a layup from Leah Porath and a 3-pointer by Schneider before Craig hit a jumper for the Eagles nearly three minutes in. UW-La Crosse was then held scoreless for almost another four minutes until a Schoenenberger 3-pointer cut the Eagles' deficit to 13-7 with 1:03 left in the first quarter.

UW-La Crosse's scoreless drought to begin the second period lasted nearly five minutes before Coulthart hit a 3-pointer to pull her team within 17-12 with 5:06 left before halftime.

A pair of free throws by Arneson gave the Titans a 24-17 lead with 1:55 remaining in the second quarter, but Kramer accounted for each of the last five points of the period as UW-La Crosse closed to within 24-22 at intermission.

UW-La Crosse took its first lead at 38-37 with 1:31 left in the third quarter and held a 44-42 advantage following a layup from Craig with 7:16 remaining in the game.

UW-Oshkosh, which earned its third straight win over UW-La Crosse and ninth in the past 10 meetings, entered the contest leading the WIAC in average scoring margin (+21.2), average rebounding margin (+8.2), turnovers per game (13.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13).

UW-La Crosse was the conference leader in field goal percentage defense (.313), 3-point defense (.235), rebounds per game (42.0) and made 3-pointers (123).

UW-Oshkosh plays at UW-Eau Claire on Wednesday (Jan. 23).

Photo by Jim Lund