Falcons growing up fast
With a starting lineup that features four sophomores and a freshman, and a roster that includes just two seniors, UW-River Falls men's basketball coach Jeff Berkhof knew his team would have to grow up fast if it wanted to compete in the always-tough WIAC this season.
Three games into their WIAC schedule, the Falcons have done just that.
UW-RF stretched its winning streak to four games by shaking off a sluggish first half and posting a 62-52 win over UW-Stout a week ago last Wednesday. It then pushed third-ranked and undefeated UW-Platteville to the brink before coming out on the short end of a 69-62 score Saturday.
The split leaves the young Falcons with a record of 5-4 overall, 2-1 in the WIAC. They travel to Bemidji State University Saturday to take on the NCAA Division II Beavers and their head coach Matt Bowen, the son of UW-RF athletic director Rick Bowen.
Berkhof said he likes the way the Falcons have come together early in the season.
"What I like about the guys is, they're really playing well together and playing hard," he said. "They've got an inner confidence that they believe they can get it done. They were genuinely disappointed we didn't win Saturday. I was happy to see that. A lot of teams would have just been happy to hang with Platteville."
The Falcons did a lot more than just hang with the Pioneers. They led by 10 late in the first half and again early in the second half, and trailed by just three, 65-62, following a Steve Farmer layup with 1:04 remaining. But the Pioneers held the Falcons scoreless in the final minute to escape with the 69-62 win.
"We have to rethink some of our decisions with the basketball during some stretches. And we're making some careless turnovers," Berkhof said. "We're playing pretty solid defense but we had some breakdowns."
The Falcons played the last four minutes without big man Wade Guerin, who hit a layup and a three-pointer to help erase a seven-point Platteville lead and tie the score, 56-56, with 5:12 remaining. Guerin picked up his fifth foul with 3:54 to play.
The Falcons went on a 9-0 run late in the first half to take a 31-21 lead on a layup by Farmer. Platteville cut the gap to three at halftime, 31-28, but the Falcons opened the second half with a 7-0 run to make it a 10-point game again.
Platteville led by seven, 56-49, with 7:12 remaining, but back-to-back baskets by Jontae Koonkaew and Guerin, and a Guerin three-pointer, tied the score.
Koonkaew led the Falcons with 18 points while Guerin finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and Jake Voeltz added eight points and five boards.
Earlier in the week, the Falcons trailed Stout 31-24 at halftime before taking control in the second half on their way to a 62-52 win. Voeltz led UW-RF with a career-high 17 points while Koonkaew added 14 and Aaron Anderson scored 13.
The Falcons shot just 28 percent in the first half (7-of-25) before upping their percentage to 52 percent after intermission (14-of-27). They held Stout to just eight second half field goals.