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Late Rally Moves Titans To WIAC Championship Final

Melanie Schneider scored 13 points to lead the Titans to their sixth straight WIAC Championship final.
Melanie Schneider scored 13 points to lead the Titans to their sixth straight WIAC Championship final.

Top-seeded and nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh finished the game with 10 unanswered points to defeat fourth-seeded UW-Stout, 61-58, during the semifinal round of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Women's Basketball Championship (presented by Culver's) on Friday (Feb. 22) in Kolf Sports Center.

UW-Oshkosh (23-3) faced a 58-51 deficit with 4:33 remaining before the Titans began their comeback with a layup from Isabella Samuels and a 3-pointer by Leah Porath that pulled them within 58-56 with 3:27 to go. Samuels then drained a pair of free throws to tie the score at the 2:28 mark, and a layup from Nikki Arneson provided the Titans the lead for good at 60-58 with 1:54 left.

Porath later made one free throw with eight seconds remaining to create the final score.

UW-Stout (18-9) committed two turnovers and missed four field goal attempts over the final 92 seconds, including a potential game-tying 3-pointer by Amber Fabeck with three ticks to play. The Blue Devils missed all six shots from the floor and committed three turnovers during the last four minutes.

The fourth quarter featured six lead changes and four ties as UW-Oshkosh picked up its seventh consecutive victory over UW-Stout and 14th in the past 15 matchups.

UW-Oshkosh, ranked 14th in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, advances to the league tournament championship game for the sixth straight season. The Titans will host second-seeded UW-Whitewater (18-8) at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 24) in Kolf Sports Center for the WIAC's automatic berth into the NCAA postseason that begins March 1. The Warhawks reached the WIAC Championship title game with a 53-51 home win over third-seeded and 25th-ranked UW-La Crosse (22-5).

Melanie Schneider paced the Titans with 13 points Friday. She shot 5-for-9 from the field and grabbed four rebounds on the way to her 19th career double-digit scoring effort.

Samuels added 10 points and four rebounds for the Titans, who also received nine points apiece from Arneson and Chloe Pustina, and eight points from both Porath and Olivia Campbell. Samuels went 4-for-5 from the floor to improve her WIAC-leading field goal percentage to .689 while Campbell contributed five rebounds to go along with a team-high four assists and two steals.

Karsyn Rueth chipped in three points and a team-best six rebounds off the UW-Oshkosh bench.

UW-Oshkosh shot 41.2 percent (21-51) from the floor, 20 percent (4-20) from 3-point range and 78.9 percent (15-19) at the free throw line. The Titans also held slim advantages of 31-30 in rebounds, 9-13 in turnovers and 6-5 in steals. Both teams collected 11 assists and three blocks.

The Titans entered the contest ranked sixth in the country by allowing 48.2 points per game. UW-Oshkosh was also leading the conference in field goal percentage (.430), assists (15.0) and turnovers (13.3) turnovers per game, average scoring (+19.0) and rebounding (+7.0) margins, and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13).

UW-Stout shot 45.1 percent (23-51) from the field, 33.3 percent (4-12) from behind the 3-point arc and 72.7 percent (8-11) at the foul line. The Blue Devils, the top scoring team in the WIAC at 69.7 points per game, were held under 60 points for just the fifth time this season. UW-Oshkosh beat UW-Stout during the regular season by scores of 81-54 in Oshkosh and 81-67 in Menomonie.

Fabeck led all players with 18 points for UW-Stout. She shot 7-for-15 from the field, pulled down five rebounds and registered three blocks.

UW-Stout's Kyncaide Diedrich and Bailey Diersen scored 13 and 10 points, respectively, while Shannan Watkins had 11 points, six rebounds and a team-high four assists off the Blue Devil bench. Diersen went into Friday ranked second in the conference with 17.6 points per game and Diedrich was third at 15.4.

UW-Oshkosh scored on the opening possession of the game on a Campbell reverse layup, and the Titans did not trail until the third quarter. They extended their lead to 16-8 following a layup from Pustina and headed into the second period with an 18-11 advantage.

UW-Stout cut its deficit to one point on three occasions during the second quarter, but the Titans went into intermission with a 31-27 lead.

The Blue Devils took their first advantage at 36-35 following a 3-pointer by Diersen with 7:28 to play in the third period. However, UW-Oshkosh reclaimed a one-point lead 29 seconds later after a layup from Schneider and headed into the final quarter with a 47-42 advantage.

UW-Stout turned a 51-50 deficit into a 58-51 lead during a span of more than two minutes as Diedrich capped the eight-point surge with a 3-pointer that gave the Blue Devils their largest advantage with 4:33 to play.

The Titans, the outright league regular season winner, and UW-Whitewater will be meeting in the WIAC tournament championship game for the third straight year. The Warhawks beat UW-Oshkosh, 65-56, to win the 2017 conference postseason and 68-65 to claim last year's title. UW-Whitewater has won each of its last six matchups with UW-Oshkosh, including decisions this season by scores of 49-47 in Oshkosh and 78-70 in overtime in Whitewater.

UW-Oshkosh is in the WIAC Championship final for the 12th time overall. The Titans won the league tournament in 1999, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and finished as the runners-up in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2017 and 2018.

WIAC Women's Basketball Championship Website

Photo by Steve Frommell, D3Photography.com