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Titans Defeat Eagles To Secure At Least A Share Of WIAC Crown

UW-Oshkosh has won the WIAC title twice in the past three years and 13 times overall.
UW-Oshkosh has won the WIAC title twice in the past three years and 13 times overall.

UW-Oshkosh earned at least a share of the WIAC women's basketball championship with a 71-62 victory over UW-La Crosse as Olivia Campbell scored a career-high 15 points, Isabella Samuels 14 and Chloe Pustina 11 during a matchup of nationally ranked teams Wednesday (Feb. 13) in Kolf Sports Center.

UW-Oshkosh (21-3, 11-2 WIAC), ranked 15th in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, did not trail after reclaiming a 43-41 lead on a layup from Pustina with 5:03 left in the third quarter. UW-La Crosse tied the score for the sixth and final time at 58 with just under six minutes remaining the final period, but the Titans outscored the Eagles, 13-4, the rest of the way.

UW-La Crosse (20-4, 9-4 WIAC), the 24th-ranked team in the country, committed three turnovers and shot just 1-for-5 from the field and 1-for-4 at the free throw line during the final five minutes of the game.

UW-Oshkosh has a one-game lead over defending champion UW-Whitewater (17-7, 10-3 WIAC) in the league standings with one contest to play. The Titans can secure the outright conference championship with a win at home over UW-Eau Claire (13-11, 4-9 WIAC) on Saturday (Feb. 16). With Wednesday's win the Titans clinched at least a share of their league-leading 13th WIAC title and second in the past three seasons. No other conference program has won more than 10 regular season championships.

Campbell eclipsed her previous career high of 13 points by shooting 6-for-11 from the field and 2-for-2 at the free throw line.

Samuels went 5-for-8 from the floor and led all players with a season high-tying seven rebounds while Pustina made a trio of 3-point baskets, dished out three assists and recorded two steals. Samuels went into Wednesday leading the WIAC with a .673 field goal percentage.

The balanced UW-Oshkosh offense featured 10 different scorers, including seven points apiece from Nikki Arneson and Melanie Schneider, and six – all in the fourth quarter – from reserve Jessie Rabas. Schneider had a game-high five assists and Arneson collected a pair of steals.

UW-Oshkosh concluded the game shooting 48.1 percent (25-52) from the field, 38.1 percent (8-21) from 3-point range and 68.4 percent (13-19) at the free throw line. The Titans held advantages of 30-25 in rebounds and 15-5 in assists. Both teams committed 13 turnovers.

The Titans, who surrendered more than 60 points for just the fifth time this season, entered the contest ranked seventh in the country by allowing just 48.7 points per game. UW-Oshkosh was also leading the WIAC in field goal percentage (.426), turnovers per game (13.4), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.11) and average scoring margin (+18.3).

UW-La Crosse shot 46.8 percent (22-47) from the floor, 33.3 percent (6-18) from beyond the 3-point arc and 70.6 percent (12-17) at the foul line. The Eagles, who had made 36 3-pointers over their previous three games, owned edges of 4-1 in blocks and 6-5 in steals. They did not record an assist the entire second half.

UW-Oshkosh was just the third team to shoot better than 40 percent from the field against UW-La Crosse this season. The Eagles went into the matchup ranked 10th nationally with a .319 opponent field goal percentage while also pacing the conference in 3-point percentage defense (.228), blocks (112), rebounds per game (40.2) and made 3-pointers (177).

Carly Coulthart led the Eagles with 15 points while Emma Gamoke added 11. Gamoke and UW-La Crosse's Dani Craig, who scored seven points on 3-for-15 shooting from the field, combined to shoot 2 of 9 from behind the 3-point line. Gamoke was leading the league with 52 made 3-pointers, including a team-record nine last Saturday (Feb. 9) against UW-Eau Claire. Craig was third in the conference with 49 long-range jumpers at a league-best .422 conversion rate.

The teams exchanged the lead seven times in the opening quarter. Coulthart drained the third of her four 3-pointers to give the Eagles an 11-9 advantage with 4:42 left in the first period, and UW-La Crosse maintained a lead until the 2:00 mark of the second quarter.

UW-La Crosse led by as many as eight points (31-23) with 3:35 to play in the first half, but UW-Oshkosh responded with eight unanswered points to tie the game 95 seconds later. Pustina hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull the Titans within 31-29 before Karsyn Rueth scored in the lane to tie the score at 31 with two minutes remaining before intermission.

The Eagles, who fell to third place in the WIAC standings, scored on three consecutive possessions to reclaim a 37-31 lead, but Arneson drove for a layup to trim UW-Oshkosh's deficit to 37-33 at halftime.

A Campbell layup at the 4:28 mark of the third quarter gave the Titans a 45-43 lead, and UW-Oshkosh never trailed the rest of the way. UW-La Crosse forged ties at both 56 and 58, but Samuels split a pair of free throws with 5:03 left in the game that provided UW-Oshkosh a 59-58 lead it would not relinquish.

Campbell made a 3-pointer for a 62-58 UW-Oshkosh lead with 4:27 left. Gamoke later made her lone 3-pointer of the game to pull UW-La Crosse within 65-62 at the 2:26 mark. However, the Eagles committed turnovers on their next three possessions and missed a pair of late 3-point shots on their way to being held scoreless for the remainder of the contest.

Rabas then secured UW-Oshkosh's victory by sinking each of her six free throw attempts over the final 21 seconds.

The Titans picked up their fourth straight win over the Eagles and 10th in the last 11 meetings. UW-Oshkosh defeated the Eagles by a 60-48 score Jan. 19 in La Crosse.

UW-Oshkosh also won WIAC regular season championships in 1985, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2017.

The Titans will seek to clinch the outright conference championship against UW-Eau Claire on Saturday in Kolf Sports Center. UW-Oshkosh beat the Blugolds, 58-43, on Jan. 23 in Eau Claire.

Photo by Steve Frommell, D3Photography.com