Titans top team in conference

Jacob Link, Co-Sports Editor

Levi Borchert had his league-leading 12th double-double of the year as the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team defeated UW-Whitewater 48-46 on Feb. 16 to become the 2022 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) regular season champions.

“It feels incredible to be WIAC champs. To be able to win the WIAC regular season is a huge accomplishment for us considering it’s one of the toughest leagues in Division III,” Borchert said. “Now our focus is winning the WIAC Tournament.”

Borchert, a preseason All-American, scored a game high 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the regular season finale. He would also score the game-winning basket for the Titans with 54 seconds left in the game.
“It feels great. It’s one of the toughest things to do in college basketball, I don’t care the level,” Head Coach Matt Lewis said. “Just to win this league and the regular season championship outright [feels great]. I’m really excited for our guys, it’s an awesome thing.”

UWO (20-3, 10-2 WIAC), ranked third in the D3hoops.com Top 25 rankings, earned the top seed in the WIAC Tournament and have won two of the last four regular season titles.

“The ultimate goal for any team is to be the national champion but you can’t do it by looking that far ahead. We are trying to take it one game at a time and focus on winning the next game on our schedule,” Borchert said.

After a tight first 13 minutes of action, the Titans went on a scoring run and led 32-24 at halftime. UWO stretched their lead to 10 at one point, but the Warhawks pulled back to 38-36 with just under 13 minutes to play. Oshkosh kept Whitewater at bay until UWW tied the game at 43 with 3:45 left.

Guard Eddie Muench retook the lead for the Titans after he knocked down a three with just under 3:30 in the game. With 66 seconds to go, Whitewater’s Gage Malensek drove through the lane and made the ensuing layup. After the play, UWO’s Cole Booth was called for a technical foul and Malensek would convert the free throw as UWW tied the game at 46.

The Titans responded nine seconds later as Borchert made the game-winning layup with 54 seconds left to put the score at 48-46. UWW had a chance to tie the game at 48 with two seconds to go, but Malensek missed the layup. The Titans grabbed the rebound and held onto the ball as time expired.

“Whitewater is a really good team, just like every other team in the WIAC. I think because we’ve played in so many close games this season against tough opponents, that prior experience helped us get it done against Whitewater,” Borchert said. “[There is] no question our team has a lot of fight and passion. That game was a good example. It was a physical game and we were able to close it on the road against a tough opponent.”

“We need to continue to defend at a higher level. I thought we did some good things last Wednesday at Whitewater, but we still aren’t good enough,” Coach Lewis said. “We have got to find a way to get a few more stops. I thought we had a few times where we broke down and didn’t know the scouting report or just didn’t execute. We’re continuing to find ways to get better defensively.”

The Titans shot 33.3% from the field, 27.3% from deep, and was 0-4 at the line. UWO had 13 steals in the game, matching a season high.

Courtesy of UWO Athletics

When asked about the UWO’s poor free throw shooting, Coach Lewis said, “Our guys just continue to invest. I’m not worried about it. I think in big games, our guys make the plays that need to be made. I know our guys can shoot it and are confident. They just continue to invest on a daily basis.”

On the other side of the ball, UWW shot 38.9% from the floor, just 16.7% from the three-point line, and 2-3 from the charity stripe. The Warhawks came into the contest shooting 49.4% from deep, the best in the WIAC. Oshkosh ranks second in the country in three-point defense, limiting opponents to 26.2% shooting.

“If you read the stats we did some pretty historic things in terms of defending them. I think it was one of their lowest three-point field goal percentages of the year,” said Coach Lewis. “They are one of the leaders in the country in field goal percentage and we held them to their season low. Our guys defended at a championship level and made just enough plays offensively to get it done.”

With the win, UWO splits the season series with the Warhawks (14-10, 7-6 WIAC) after the Titans lost at home in overtime 82-78 on Jan. 5. Oshkosh will also receive the double bye in the WIAC Tournament as the top seed, automatically placing them in the semi-finals.

“I think just by sticking to our routine we will stay sharp. We play live drills quite a bit in practice which keeps us in the flow of things,” Borchert said. “This double bye is a great opportunity for us to get our bodies right and puts us physically in the best place possible.”

“[This team] is an incredibly competitive group. This is one of the most competitive groups that have been around in my 10 years at Oshkosh,” Coach Lewis said. “They want to win basketball games and they know the value of each and every possession. I think we saw that on Wednesday when it came down to the very last possession. It is an awesome group to be around.”

The final seedings were determined by a vote of the conference athletic directors.

Beneath UWO in the final standings are UW-Platteville, which finished second in the WIAC with a record of 9-4 in conference play. UW-La Crosse had the chance to finish second, but lost their final game against UW-Stout, resulting in a third-place finish with a record of 9-5. UW-Stout and Whitewater both finished with a WIAC record of 7-6, but Stout was fourth in the standings because they had a better overall record (16-9) than the Warhawks. But, based on the vote by the athletic directors, UWW received the fourth seed instead in the WIAC Tournament. UW-River Falls (14-9, 6-7 WIAC) and UW-Eau Claire (11-15, 4-10 WIAC) finished in six and seventh place respectively, as UW-Stevens Point (4-16, 0-12 WIAC) was dead last in the standings.

In the first round of the WIAC Tournament, UWSP upset fifth seed Stout 85-83 after a buzzer-beating layup by senior Garrett Nelson. Stout led by three when they fouled Nelson on the potential game-tying three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left. Nelson would convert all three of his free-throws to tie the game at 83. Stout then turned the ball over on the inbounds pass, giving Stevens Point one last chance. Nelson cut through the lane and put up a layup to win the game as time expired.

In the other first round matchup, River Falls dominated Eau Claire in a 77-42 win. The Falcons built up a halftime lead of 42-27 before only allowing 15 Blugold points in the second half. Noah Hanson led UWRF with 18 points and seven rebounds.

The WIAC Tournament second round saw Stevens Point take on third seed La Crosse on Tuesday night. The Pointers nearly pulled off the upset, but La Crosse held on to win 74-70. In the second game of the day, River Falls took on fourth seed Whitewater in a game the Warhawks dominated, winning 72-49.

The WIAC Tournament semi-finals will take place tonight. La Crosse will take on Platteville in the first WIAC semi-final matchup. Whitewater will take on UWO at the Kolf Sports Center at 7 p.m. This will be the second time in eight days that the Titans take on UWW.

“Our plan is to just focus on each day. The nice thing is that we have some time here to really focus on ourselves,” said Coach Lewis. “We don’t know our next opponent until Tuesday night, so we’re spending a lot of time focusing on ourselves and seeing how we can get better.”

“In a normal week we would be preparing for a specific opponent by doing scout team and watching their film but since we don’t know who our next opponent is yet, we have been getting lots of shots up and focusing on getting ourselves better,” Borchert said.

The highest remaining seed after tonight’s games will host the WIAC Championship game on Saturday at either 3 p.m. or 7 p.m. Check the WIAC website for the official start time. The winner of the WIAC championship game will earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.