Nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh is headed back to the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship.
UW-Oshkosh (24-3) secured an automatic berth into the 64-team national tournament with a convincing 69-40 victory over UW-Whitewater during the title game of the WIAC Championship (presented by Culver's) on Sunday (Feb. 24) in Kolf Sports Center.
The Titans, the top seed at the WIAC Championship, never trailed on the way to dethroning the Warhawks, the two-time defending league tournament winner. UW-Oshkosh scored 23 seconds into the contest held a 29-24 lead at intermission before outscoring second-seeded UW-Whitewater, 40-16, in the second half.
A string of 16 unanswered points during a span of more than seven minutes provided UW-Oshkosh a 49-29 lead early in the fourth quarter.
UW-Whitewater (18-9) was held to its lowest scoring output since a 61-34 setback to UW-Eau Claire during the WIAC Championship semifinals Feb. 26, 2009. The 29-point loss is the Warhawks' largest since an 87-58 decision against Illinois Wesleyan University on Jan. 2, 2010.
UW-Oshkosh, ranked 14th in the country by D3hoops.com, will learn its opponent and venue for the NCAA postseason tournament during an online selection show at 1:30 p.m. (central) Monday (Feb. 25). The Division III Women's Basketball Championship commences with first round games Friday (March 1).
The Titans, who have produced seven consecutive 20-win seasons, clinched their league-leading 13th WIAC regular season title and won the fifth league tournament crown in program history. UW-Oshkosh swept both the conference tournament and regular season championships for the second time and first since the WIAC postseason tournament debuted in 1999.
Leah Porath led four UW-Oshkosh double-digit scorers with a season high-tying 16 points in 16 minutes off the bench Sunday. She shot 7-for-9 from the floor and collected four rebounds en route to her fourth double-digit scoring performance of the season.
Nikki Arneson added 14 points and a career-best five steals for the Titans, who also received 13 points and four rebounds from Isabella Samuels, and 12 points and a team-high five rebounds from Melanie Schneider. Samuels went 6 of 8 from the field to improve her WIAC-leading field goal percentage to .692 on the year.
UW-Oshkosh's Erin Vande Zande chipped in five points and five rebounds in a reserve role as the Titan bench accounted for 26 points and 13 rebounds.
The Titans, who snapped a six-game losing streak to the Warhawks, shot 46.9 percent (23-49) from floor, 12.5 percent (2-16) from 3-point range and 72.4 percent (21-29) at the free throw line. UW-Oshkosh held advantages of 39-27 in rebounds, 13-11 in offensive rebounds, 13-5 in assists, 10-8 in steals, 4-3 in blocks and 12-16 in turnovers.
UW-Oshkosh, which limited its 18th opponent to under 50 points this season, went into the WIAC title game ranked sixth nationally by allowing 48.2 points per game. The Titans were also pacing the conference in field goal percentage (.430), assists (15.0) and turnovers (13.3) per game, assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13), and average scoring (+19.0) and rebounding (+7.0) margins.
UW-Whitewater was held to 28.6 percent (14-49) from the floor, including 25 percent (4-16) from beyond the 3-point arc, while shooting 57.1 percent (8-14) at the foul line. The Warhawks' 14 made field goals were a season low.
Emily Schumacher paced the Warhawks with 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.
Olivia Freckmann and Camri Conley had six and eight points, respectively, for UW-Whitewater while Sarah Schumacher contributed five points and a game-high seven rebounds.
UW-Oshkosh scored the first four points of the game on Samuels layups and extended its lead to 11-4 following a jumper by Porath with 5:24 left in the opening quarter. The Warhawks pulled within 13-11 at the 2:44 mark, but the Titans held UW-Whitewater scoreless for the remainder of the period and entered the second quarter with a 17-11 lead.
The Titans increased their run to eight consecutive points on a Samuels layup and a pair of free throws by Olivia Campbell for a 21-11 cushion early in the second quarter. The Warhawks trimmed their deficit to 26-24 after a 3-pointer from Emily Schumacher late in the first half, but two Arneson free throws provided UW-Oshkosh a 29-24 advantage at halftime.
Clinging to a 33-29 lead with 6:16 to play in the third quarter, UW-Oshkosh erupted for 16 unanswered points until Conley split a pair free throws that cut the Titan lead to 49-30 with 8:51 left in the game. Porath scored eight points and Arneson added four during the Titans' 16-point run.
UW-Whitewater missed 11 consecutive field goal attempts and committed four turnovers from the 6:16 mark of the third period until Freckmann hit a jumper that pulled the Warhawks within 55-34 with 7:08 remaining in the game.
The Titans outscored the Warhawks, 20-5, during the third quarter and held their largest lead of 29 points on a Vande Zande jumper that created the final score with 37 seconds left that created the final score.
UW-Oshkosh, which was making its sixth straight appearance in the WIAC Championship final, won its previous league tournament titles in 1999, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Titans will be making their 15th trip to the Division III Championship and first since a run of four consecutive appearances from 2014-17.
UW-Whitewater had defeated UW-Oshkosh in the WIAC Championship final the past two seasons, downing the Titans by scores of 65-56 in 2017 in Oshkosh and 68-65 last year in Whitewater. The Warhawks also swept this year's regular season series with UW-Oshkosh by scores of 49-47 Jan. 16 in Oshkosh and 78-70 in overtime Feb. 4 in Whitewater.
Photo by Steve Frommell, D3Photography.com