The possessions looked so similar one might have thought he or she was watching it on a loop or a .GIF.
UW-La Crosse’s women’s basketball team would play near-perfect defense for 25 seconds, but then one slip or one step too close to an opponent would open a crease for the visiting Oshkosh Titans, and they took advantage as the shot clock wound down.
Despite a flurry late in the game that cut into the Titans’ lead, the Eagles’ slow start and those small mistakes late in the shot clock cost them a 56-48 decision in the semifinal round of the WIAC tournament in front of 200 people at Mitchell Hall.
La Crosse was seeded second in the tournament — the highest in school history — and again had trouble slowing down Oshkosh junior center Isabella Samuels in key spots. Samuels had 14 points and 10 rebounds, four of which were offensive.
“(Samuels) was obviously difficult for us inside,” UW-L coach Karen Middleton said. “But I thought the bigger thing was our scoring. We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to. That’s a huge credit to them. Truly, I think they’re the best defense in the conference.”
That it was a defensive battle didn’t surprise many familiar with these teams. La Crosse was third in the WIAC this season at 55.6 points allowed per game and Oshkosh was first at 50.3.
Freshman Ava Kramer was leading the charge in the fourth quarter, as she scored 12 of her game-high 16 points — including two 3-pointers — over the final 10 minutes. La Crosse went 10 of 11 from the free-throw line, but just couldn’t get enough stops at crucial moments.
“We’ve got heart, and we’ve got fight. They’re never going to give up. We were able to generate a few points, and that was good for us to push it and create opportunities,” Middleton said.
Senior forward Elise DeNoyer had 13 points and five rebounds, while sophomore Dani Craig added eight points and seven rebounds for UW-L.
Both teams had a quarter of offensive misery in the first half — the Eagles scored three points in the first quarter as they fell behind 16-3, but then held Oshkosh to four points in the second as they clawed their way back to a 20-14 halftime deficit.
UW-L came back with defense, holding Oshkosh scoreless for more than 4 minutes to start the second quarter. La Crosse attacked mostly from the paint, as it went 0-for-5 from the 3-point line to start.
Middleton said the Eagles took a step forward this year, but knows even more is coming for this program.
“Our seniors last year started it, and this group took it another step further,” she said. “We’ve just got to learn to win in these championship situations.”