UW-La Crosse Advances to WIAC Semifinals with Home Win over UW-Eau Claire

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La Crosse, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse women's basketball team earned an 69-57 win over UW-Eau Claire Wednesday night in the first round of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Championships (presented by Culver's).  The Eagles improve to 16-10 on the season and advance to play at UW-Whitewater in the tournament semifinals Friday, February 24 at 7 p.m.  UW-Eau Claire ends its season at 13-13.

UWL will play in the WIAC Championships semifinals for the third time in school history, including its first appearance since 2011.  The Eagles also played in the tournament semifinals in 2006.  UWL has never advanced to the championship game. 

Fourth-seeded UWL never trailed in Wednesday's win, leading 15-4 at the end of the first quarter. Fifth-seeded UW-Eau Claire cut the lead to 18-9 with 3:03 left in the second quarter on Kelsey Bakken's three-point field goal, but UWL used a 6-1 run to lead 24-10 with 2:17 remaining after Sydney Kannel's three-point play. The Eagles led 24-13 at halftime.

"To hold a team to 13 points in the first half was pretty huge for us," said UWL head coach Karen Middleton.  "That's been the backbone of who are defensively.  We had to adjust offensively, they really flipped what they did the last time we played."

Anna Graaskamp's layup with 6:11 left in the third quarter for the Blugolds cut the deficit to 30-17 before the Eagles went on a 13-5 run to lead 43-22 with 2:00 remaining on Elise DeNoyer's layup. UWL led 49-29 at the end of the third quarter.  UW-Eau Claire started the fourth quarter on a 13-1 run to cut the lead to 50-42 with 6:45 remaining.  The Blugolds later cut the deficit to 59-54 with 1:08 left, but could get no closer as the Eagles went 10-of-12 at the free throw line in the final 1:00.  Alyssa Clemment went six-of-six at the line in the final :35.

"We had to be aggressive at the end," said Middleton. "We lost our poise a little bit, but were able to settle down and make some plays."

UWL shot 46.0% from the field, including 35.3% (six-of-17) from three-point range, and 73.9% (17-of-23) at the free throw line. The Eagles shot 56.0% (14-of-25) from the field in the second half. Kannel led UWL with a career-high 23 points, finishing eight-of-11 from the field, including two-of-four from three-point range, and five-of-seven at the line.  Taylor Nelson finished with 13 points off the bench while Clemment totaled 11 points.  MaKenzie Miller finished with nine points and game-high 15 rebounds. 

"I'm so happy for Sydney (Kannel), she's been steady all year," said Middleton.  "She got into a nice groove and rhythm and drives it to the basket and with all the attention that MaKenzie (Miller) was getting inside, it opened some nice driving lanes."

UWL improved to 9-3 at home this season with Wednesday's win.  "It was definitely a major part of why we were able to do what we did today," added Middleton. 

UW-Eau Claire shot 36.1% from the field, including 15.8% (three-of-19) from three-point range, and 71.4% (10-of-14) at the line.  The Blugolds shot 18.5% (five-of-27) from the field in the first half, including 18.2% (two-of-11) from three-point range.  Graaskamp led UW-Eau Claire with 24 points and eight rebounds while Maddie Dunathan totaled 10 points and five assists. 

UWL earned its first tournament win over UW-Eau Claire in school history, falling to the Blugolds in the 2007 and 2010 first round.

UWL returns to action Friday, February 24 at UW-Whitewater at 7 p.m. in the WIAC Championship semifinals.