The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has one of the nation's richest basketball histories, with national champions, All-Americans and future NBA players. Among all that glorious history, however, no team had ever gone from last place one year to first the next. On Saturday night, UW-Platteville put its name in the record books by accomplishing that historic feat.
The Pioneers beat UW-River Falls 81-69 on Bo Ryan Court and claimed their first conference championship since 2005 and -- coupled with UW-Stevens Point's loss at UW-Eau Claire -- their first outright crown since 1999.
"This is awesome. We went from a not-so-great season last year and last place in the conference to turning everything around and winning conference outright," senior guard Jake Showalter said. "It just shows all our hard work pays off. A lot of people didn't see what we did in the offseason, with running the hill, swimming laps and hitting the weight room. With our six seniors leading, our hard work paid off."
A year after going 1-13 in the league, UW-Platteville improved to 22-3 overall and 12-2 in the WIAC in the regular-season finale. Earning a first-round bye, the sixth-ranked Pioneers will play host to a WIAC semifinal game Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday morning in Williams Fieldhouse. The matchup will be determined after Wednesday night's first round.
The Pioneers blew out to a 38-17 halftime lead by holding the Falcons to a staggering 8 percent from the field. UWRF, who handed the Pioneers one of their three losses earlier this year, was 2-25 from the field, including 0-15 on three-point attempts.
"We knew at the beginning of the year that we have guys who can score," Pioneer Coach Jeff Gard said. "We told them 'you have to be able to defend.' We can't get into track meets with teams and try to outscore them. To be able to hold that team to 17 points at the half is something."
The Pioneers stretched the lead to as many as 30 at 57-27 before the Falcons finally found their shots again, hitting 10 three-pointers to make the score closer.
Alex Herink led the Falcons (16-8, 7-7) with 18 points, Matthew Timlin scored 11, and Jalen Greenlee had 10.
The WIAC title is the 20th for UW-Platteville, which won four NCAA titles in the 1990s.
"It's great because it's a championship for this university and the community," said Gard, whose brother Greg, the Wisconsin Badgers coach, had a front-row seat. "With the attendance and support we have, it's nice to give them this, give them something back. This is for the players of the present and the players of the past as well. There are a lot of people who laid the foundation for these championships, maybe guys who didn't put up championship banners but helped establish the culture. They all need to know that they are linked to this championship."
"It's great to bring that tradition back to Platteville," Showalter said.