First place in the WIAC women's basketball standings will be on the line when UW-Oshkosh hosts UW-La Crosse in a clash of nationally ranked teams Wednesday (Feb. 13) in Kolf Sports Center.
UW-Oshkosh (20-3, 10-2 WIAC), ranked 15th in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, has a one-game lead over 24th-ranked UW-La Crosse (20-3, 9-3) and UW-Whitewater (16-7, 9-3) with two contests remaining.
The homestanding Titans can clinch at least a share of their league-record 13th title with a win. UW-La Crosse would move into a tie for first place in the WIAC standings with a victory Wednesday. The Eagles have claimed 10 WIAC crowns, including their last in 1983.
Wednesday's game features two of the best defensive teams in the country as UW-Oshkosh ranks eighth among all NCAA women's or men's programs by surrendering just 48.7 points per contest while UW-La Crosse's .319 field goal percentage allowed lists 10th in Division III and is on pace to shatter the WIAC record of .330 established by UW-Whitewater during the 1976-77 season.
The Titans, who defeated the Eagles by a 60-48 score Jan. 19 in La Crosse, have held 16 opponents to less than 50 points this season. Only two teams have shot better than 40 percent from the field against UW-La Crosse on the year. In their first matchup of the season, UW-Oshkosh pulled out a 12-point win over the Eagles despite shooting 32.1 percent (17-53) from the floor. The Titans are second in the WIAC by limiting opponents to a .353 field goal percentage.
In the first meeting between the teams this season, UW-Oshkosh limited the Eagles to their lowest scoring output of the year and overcame a one-point deficit entering the final quarter by outscoring UW-La Crosse, 23-10, in the final period as senior guard Chloe Pustina scored 12 of her career-high 15 points after intermission.
UW-Oshkosh, which has reached 20 wins for the seventh consecutive season, paces the WIAC with a .426 field goal percentage, 13.4 turnovers per game, a 1.11 assist-to-turnover ratio and a +18.3 average scoring margin.
The Titans, who also won 20 or more games from 1994-2000, are the lone WIAC program with two runs of seven straight 20-wins seasons. The only other conference teams to string together seven seasons in a row with at least 20 wins are UW-Whitewater with seven from 2008-14 and UW-Eau Claire with a league-best 10 between 1992-2001.
UW-La Crosse, which finished last in the WIAC standings three seasons ago, has reached the 20-win mark for the seventh time overall and its first since going 20-8 in 2011. The Eagles are leading the WIAC in made 3-pointers (177), 3-point percentage (.346), blocks (112) and 3-point percentage defense (.226), which ranks fourth in the country.
UW-Oshkosh owns a 7-1 record at home this season while UW-La Crosse is 9-1 on the road. The Titans' lone home loss was a 49-47 setback to UW-Whitewater on Jan. 16. The Eagles' only road loss was a 73-65 decision during their WIAC opener Jan. 2 at UW-Stout.
The balanced UW-Oshkosh offense has had 10 different leading scorers this season. The Titans have just two players among the top 30 scorers in the WIAC as senior center Isabella Samuels is 20th in the league by averaging a team-leading 9.3 points per game and senior forward Melanie Schneider is 21st at 8.6.
Samuels leads the conference with a .673 field goal percentage and ranks sixth among active Division III players by shooting 62.3 percent from the floor during her career. She has paced the Titans in scoring on five occasions this season and tallied a career-best 23 points during a 78-70 loss at UW-Whitewater on Feb. 4.
Schneider leads the team with 4.7 rebounds per game while starting all 23 games this season. She has led the Titans in scoring a team-high six times this season, including with her career-best 18 points in a 57-56 win over Eastern University (Pa.) on Dec. 18.
Rounding out UW-Oshkosh's most recent starting lineup are Pustina, junior guard Olivia Campbell and sophomore forward Nikki Arneson. Arneson is third on the team with 6.4 points per game while Pustina is fourth at 6.4 per contest and Campbell averages 5.8. Campbell ranks third in the conference with 63 assists and eighth with a team-leading 42 steals. Pustina is seventh in the league in both assists per game (2.6) and 3-point percentage (.338).
Twelve Titans are averaging at least eight minutes of playing time per game, including senior guard Jessie Rabas, sophomore guard Leah Porath, sophomore center Karsyn Rueth, freshman guard Brooklyn Bull, senior center Erin Vande Zande and freshman guard Brooke Freitag.
Rabas, who ranks seventh in the league with 32 made 3-pointers, is averaging 6.3 points per game and lists sixth in the conference with 20 blocks and a .344 3-point percentage. Porath is averaging 6.2 points per contest while Rueth chips in 6.0 per game, Bull 4.3, and Vande Zande and Freitag 3.3 apiece.
UW-La Crosse is led by a trio of sharpshooting guards averaging at least 9.9 points per game in freshman Emma Gamoke, senior Dani Craig and junior Delaney Schoenenberger.
Gamoke is sixth in the WIAC with a team-best 13.4 points per game, Craig is 10th in the league at 12.6 per contest and Schoenenberger is 18th at 9.9. Gamoke paces the WIAC with 52 made 3-pointers, and Craig is the league leader with a .422 3-point percentage. Gamoke, who has a team-high 45 steals on the year, is second in the conference by shooting at a .361 clip from beyond the 3-point arc while Craig lists second in the WIAC with 49 made 3-pointers.
Completing the most recent Eagles starting lineup are freshman forwards Lexie Higgins and Carly Coulthart, who are averaging 5.8 and 4.9 points per game, respectively. Higgins, who leads the WIAC with 35 blocks, averages a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game.
Leading the UW-La Crosse efforts off the bench are sophomore guard Ava Kramer and freshman forward Kyah Steiner. Kramer averages 6.9 points per contest and Steiner contributes 4.0 per game.
UW-Oshkosh secured WIAC regular season championships in 1985, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2017. UW-La Crosse won its league titles in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983.