Oregon entered a first place showdown with Watertown on Thursday night without the services of flu-ridden senior guard Liz Uhl, a Division II recruit who leads the Panthers in scoring with 15 points a game.
“I joked (with Oregon coach Adam Wamsley before the game and said), ‘Big deal, you just throw another one of your gunslingers in there,’” Watertown girls basketball coach Matt Stollberg said. “They are so deep, it doesn’t affect them that much. It hurts them a little bit on some length, but I figured it wouldn’t change much. If anything, it just puts another, quicker guard in the game on the press.”
That press proved the difference.
Watertown gave short-handed Oregon its best shot and led 34-26 with just over eight minutes left in regulation. But the Panthers showed off their own brand of lethal defense and closed the game on an 18-2 run to win 44-36 and clinch the Badger South title outright.
Oregon (16-4, 12-1 in conference) came up with four steals and drew two offensive fouls with pressure defense down the stretch as Watertown (14-6, 9-3) saw its impressive deep run into the league hunt come to a crashing end.
“We were undefeated at home coming into this game,” Stollberg said.
“It looked like we were going to have another ugly game and find a way to do enough to pull away at the end. The turnovers just doomed us. We couldn’t find somebody that was comfortable with the ball tonight. Our girls have fought through the pressure all season long and found a way to cope with it, but tonight we just didn’t have it. We just kind of fell apart. We had some untimely bad decisions. It was a physical game.”
Junior forward Teya Maas reached her scoring average of 16 points with eight in each half. Junior guard Avalon Uecke scored six of her eight points in the second half, including three which began an 8-0 run to give the Goslings the lead.
She hit a free throw to break a 26-26 tie, then converted underneath off an entry pass from junior guard Autumn Meyers. Junior guard Sydney Linskens followed with a 3-pointer from the right wing, then assisted on a basket underneath by Maas to put Watertown up 34-26 with 8:13 remaining.
“When we were able to settle into the half court, we were able to get what we wanted,” Stollberg said.
The Panthers rose up collectively from there. Sophomore guard Emily Mortenson, senior guard Izzie Peterson, junior guard Carleigh Roberts and senior forward Kaitlin Schrimpf each had a steal during the finishing flurry.
Watertown junior guard Aubrey Schmutzler and sophomore guard Lily Gifford were each hit with offensive fouls trying to push across half court against full court pressure. Gifford’s foul with less than three minutes remaining was her fifth.
Schimpf’s steal led to a pair of free throws by Mortenson, who broke the tie for good to put Oregon up 38-36 with 2:36 remaining. The Goslings missed two free throws and two shots from 3-point range from there as the Panthers closed this one out and celebrated.
“We were in a funk,” Stollberg said. “We thought we could ride it out, then we were close. and they went on that run.
“(They hurt us a little with drives to the basket early in the second half). With nine or ten minutes left, we were able to take it away. Usually we don’t struggle with that. We were maybe having a little bit of slow feet and we are just getting really worn down and tired.
“We’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing and finding ways to get it done. You’re not going to get every one. The kids are disappointed. Still, to be predicted to finish sixth and then have a chance to be in this game to win the conference championship on the line. We didn’t necessarily know we would be in that situation, but I am proud of them that they have been there. So now, we turn the page and get ready for two more and then we get ready for the playoffs.”
Watertown plays at Monroe on Saturday.
JV falls: Watertown’s junior varsity lost 58-14.
Oregon 18 26 — 44
Watertown 15 21 — 36
Oregon (fg ftm-fta pts) — Moretenson 0 3-4 3, Peterson 5 1-4 11, Roberts 4 4-4 13, Schrimpf 2 4-6 9, Statz 3 1-2 7, Nedelcoff 0 1-2 1 Totals 14 14-22 44
Watertown — Linskens 1 0-0 3, Meyers 1 0-1 2, Quinn 1 0-2 2, Gifford 2 0-1 5, 8 0-3 16, Uecke 2 4-6 8 Totals 15 4-13 36
Three-point goals — O (), W (Linskens 1, Gifford 1) Total fouls — O 15, W 20
Fouled out — W (Gifford)