Coming off their first playoff berth since 2004 during the 2011-2012 season, the UW-Superior women's basketball team was predicted to finish sixth the WIAC preseason poll heading into the 2012-2013 campaign.
Nearly three months later, not only are the Yellowjackets exceeding those expectations, they are firmly in the hunt for a first-ever WIAC conference championship.
The Yellowjackets, currently ranked No. 25 in the latest D3hoops.com poll, continued their winning ways Wednesday night, taking an early lead before holding off a late run to down UW-Eau Claire 56-53 at Zorn Arena, setting up a showdown with UW-Stevens Point on Saturday at Berg Gymnasium in Stevens Point.
With the win, the Yellowjackets improved to 16-3 overall and 8-2 in WIAC action while the Blugolds dropped to 9-10 overall and 4-6 in league play.
UW-Superior got off to a fast start, scoring the first eight points behind two layups from Hillary Peterson (Sturgeon Lake, Minn./Moose Lake), a score from Deandra Vavra (Cambridge, Minn./Cambridge-Isanti) and a basket from Connie Urmanski (Edgar, Wis./Edgar) on the way to taking a 10-2 lead following a bucket by Kristen Nett (Green Bay, Wis./Bay Port) with 15:55 remaining in the first half.
The Yellowjackets upped their lead to 21-12 on a layup by Carmen Watson (Milwaukee, Wis./James Madison) with 8:15 left before a Teenie Lichtfuss score brought UW-Eau Claire to within 23-17 at the 4:56 mark of the opening frame.
UW-Superior responded with a three-pointer from Nett, and an offensive rebound and layup from Allyssa Lindberg (Marquette, Mich./Marquette) in the final 2:08 to take a 30-19 margin into halftime.
The Yellowjackets added to their lead early in the second half as back-to-back three-point shots from Nett upped the UW-Superior advantage to 36-21 with 16:54 remaining in regulation.
UW-Superior maintained a double-digit edge for the next 8:51, taking a 44-33 lead following a free throw by Sally Linzmeier (Valders, Wis./Valders) with 8:03 left in the second half.
The Blugolds steadily climbed back, cutting the deficit to 49-47 at the 2:27 mark thanks to four points from Courtney Lewis, two free throws by Leah Rempert, and a three-pointer by Kristin Rahr.
Two more free throws by Lewis with 1:08 finally evened matters at 51-51.
But the Yellowjackets took the lead for good on the next possession as Vavra scored on a layup with 35 seconds left.
Two free throws from Urmanski and an additional free throw by Lindberg upped the margin to 56-51 with just eight seconds left.
The Blugolds got a layup from Rempert with six seconds remaining to cut the lead to 56-53. Two last second three-point attempts fell short however, giving the win to UW-Superior.
UW-Superior was paced by Nett's 14 points while Vavra finished with 13 points and Watson pitched in with 11 for the Yellowjackets.
UW-Eau Claire was led by Lewis with a game-high 20 points. Rempert added 14 points for the Blugolds as well.
Opening tipoff between the Yellowjackets and the Pointers is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday.