UW-Eau Claire used a 25-point free throw advantage over the Warhawks and got a big 31-point performance from Jessie Ruden to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on Friday night. Ruden scored 31 points and the Blugolds shot 28-for-31 from the free-throw line as they defeated UW-Whitewater 77-63 in the WIAC Conference Tournament Championship at the Kachel Gym in Whitewater, Wis.
“Ruden is so hard to guard and she was phenomenal in the second half,” UW-Whitewater head coach Keri Carollo said of UW-Eau Claire junior guard Jessie Ruden after the game. “She completely took over the game and honestly was the biggest difference for us because we didn’t respond to that.”
UW-Eau Claire began the game with a 7-0 run before UW-Whitewater tied the game with a 10-3 run. After the Blugolds took a 21-16 lead early in the second quarter, the Warhawks used a 10-0 run including three-pointers from Yssa Sto. Domingo and Maggie Trautsch to grab a 26-21 lead.
“It was a great run because we were hitting our perimeter shots. It was huge because that kind of opened up things for us in the paint for Aleah (Grundahl) and Johanna (Taylor) to go to work,” Carollo said.
Sto. Domingo added five more points in the half adding another three to help the Warhawks grab a 38-30 halftime lead. The Warhawks had the advantage on the boards in the second quarter as they outrebounded the Blugolds by 10 in the period to help grab the halftime lead.
Early in the third quarter, the Warhawks used another three-pointer from Sto. Domingo and five points from junior Aleah Grundahl to push the lead up to 13. After the Warhawks grabbed the 48-35 lead, UW-Eau Claire’s Jessie Ruden responded by scoring the Blugolds’ next 15 points to tie the game at 50 before taking a 57-55 lead at the quarter break.
“I didn’t think our execution was very good,” Carollo said of the fourth quarter struggles. “I thought we weren’t taking good shots and we were taking too early shots in the shot clock. When you give up basket after basket on the other end, it is hard to match that.”
In the fourth quarter, UW-Eau Claire used a 10-2 run including four points from Tyra Boettcher to grab their own double-digit lead at 67-57. The Blugolds outscored the Warhawks 20-8 in the quarter to get the 77-63 win.
The Warhawks went 26-for-76 from the field in the loss including eight made shots from three-point range. UW-Whitewater had a 47-39 advantage in rebounds in the game, while UW-Eau Claire had a 20-6 advantage in points off of turnovers.
Freshman Kacie Carollo led the way for UW-Whitewater with 14 points, while Yssa Sto. Domingo had 13. Senior Johanna Taylor had a double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds in the loss for the Warhawks.
UW-Whitewater currently sits at 23-4, and won the WIAC conference title outright in the regular season. The Warhawks will learn their tournament fate with the NCAA Division 3 Selection Show, which will be streamed on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
“The most important thing is that they stay together,” Carollo said of her team. “They need to understand that at any moment it can end. When you get an opportunity to play in a game that you have to take advantage of that.”