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Titans Fall To Nationally Ranked Eagles In WIAC Opener

Abby Kaiser had seven points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals against the Eagles.
Abby Kaiser had seven points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals against the Eagles.

Dani Craig and Emma Gamoke combined for 37 points as the nationally ranked UW-La Crosse women's basketball team defeated defending WIAC champion UW-Oshkosh, 71-57, in the league opener Saturday (Jan. 4) in La Crosse.

UW-La Crosse (10-2, 1-0 WIAC), ranked 11th in the NCAA Division III by, trailed for just 23 seconds during the first quarter before taking the lead for good at 9-7 with 6:12 remaining in the opening period. The Eagles, who had lost each of their last four meetings with the Titans and 10 of the past 11 in the series, won a WIAC opener for the first time in 13 years.

Craig had a game-high 20 points and Gamoke added 17. The guard tandem both went 3-for-5 from 3-point range and combined to shoot 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) from the field to help the Eagles to their first home win over the Titans since Jan. 28, 2012.

Eagles starter Delaney Schoenenberger and reserve Ava Kramer chipped in eight points apiece while UW-La Crosse's Lexie Higgins led all players with 10 rebounds.

UW-Oshkosh (7-5, 0-1 WIAC), which won both the regular season and postseason WIAC titles last season, was picked to win the league title in a preseason poll conducted by conference coaches and sports information directors. UW-La Crosse, seeking its first WIAC title since 1983, finished second in the poll.

Leah Porath had a team-leading 19 points and seven rebounds for the Titans, who also received 12 points off the bench from Nikki Arneson and seven points each from Olivia Campbell, Abby Kaiser and Claire Staples.

Porath, who shot 8 of 17 from the floor and 2-for-5 from 3-point range, entered the day leading the WIAC at 19.7 points per game and a .559 field goal percentage while ranking third nationally by shooting 56.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

UW-La Crosse shot 45.9 percent (28-61) from the field and 45.5 percent (10-22) from beyond the 3-point arc. The Eagles, who produced advantages of 40-31 in rebounds and 5-3 in blocks, went into Saturday leading the conference with 8.4 made 3-pointers per game and a .347 3-point percentage.

UW-Oshkosh shot 41.8 percent (23-55) from the floor, including 26.3 percent (5-19) from 3-point range, and a season-low 40 percent (6-15) at the free throw line. The Titans owned edges of 11-9 in assists, 10-11 in turnovers and 5-4 in steals after entering the day leading the country with 11.0 turnovers per game while ranking sixth nationally with a 1.21 assist-to-turnover ratio. UW-Oshkosh was also the conference leader in average turnover margin (+3.82) and free throw percentage (.738).

A Porath 3-pointer gave the Titans their lone lead of the game at 5-4 with 7:15 left in the first quarter. Craig hit a jumper 23 seconds later, and UW-La Crosse later reclaimed the lead for good at 9-7 following a Gamoke layup at the 6:12 mark of the opening period.

Leading 13-12 with 2:40 left in the first quarter, UW-La Crosse finished the period with seven unanswered points for a 20-12 advantage and extended its lead to 28-17 on a Gamoke 3-pointer with 6:24 to go in the second quarter.

UW-La Crosse went on to maintain leads of 36-29 at halftime and 48-40 after three quarters before building its largest advantage of 16 points at 66-50 with 2:54 left in the game. UW-Oshkosh cut its deficit to six points on four occasions during the second half, including at 48-42 after a Campbell jumper with 8:58 remaining in the contest, but the Eagles responded with a 16-6 run over the next six minutes en route to building their largest margin of the game.

UW-Oshkosh remains on the road for a contest at UW-Platteville on Wednesday (Jan. 8).

Photo courtesy of Jim Lund