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Wildcats split BRC openers

Wildcats Brad Freeborn (20) and Sam Barr team up to block a shot by Rice Lake's 6-foot, 9-inch sophomore Henry Ellenson in front of the Wildcat student section in the second half of the Cats' 54-32 loss to the Warriors Friday night at the high school gym. <i>Bob Burrows photos</i>1 / 2
Wildcat head coach Greg Gaulke thanks the crowd before the Cats' game against Rice Lake after receiving a basketball signed by his players during a ceremony to honor of his 400th career victory one week earlier at Red Wing.2 / 2

Cold shooting plagued the Wildcat boys' basketball team in its first two Big Rivers Conference games of the season last week.

The Cats were able to grind out a 45-42 victory over winless Menomonie last Tuesday, Dec. 4, but weren't able to overcome a physical Rice Lake team in a 54-32 loss to the undefeated Warriors on Friday, De. 7.

River Falls, now 4-1 overall, 1-1 in the BRC, returns to action this Friday, Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Eau Claire Memorial (3-1, 1-0).

Last Tuesday the Wildcats looked sluggish from the start and missed a chance to ice the game from the free throw line late but still managed a three-point victory over Menomonie.

"An ugly win is better than a beautiful loss," head coach Greg Gaulke said.

River Falls led 25-14 at the break but Menomonie trimmed it to 31-25 with one quarter to play. The Mustangs kept putting the Wildcats on the free throw line in the final minutes but the Cats couldn't take advantage, making just 6-of-12 free throws in the game.

"Free throws are huge," Gaulke said. "They add points. Instead of a four-point lead you could have a nine point lead. We didn't take advantage of that."

Following a missed Wildcat free throw with under five seconds remaining, the Mustangs had one final chance to tie the score but a desperation half-court heave fell short.

Luke Murphy led the Wildcats with 14 points and six rebounds while Brad Freeborn finished with 12 points and seven boards. Alex Call contributed seven points and Tanner Heinselman had five while Reed Blasius, Sam Barr and Eric Wunrow chipped in two points each. Wunrow also had five rebounds.

"That was almost a perfect storm," Gaulke said about the game. "We're coming off three wins and we've got Rice Lake next and you're playing a team that doesn't have a win. "Those kind of games you just need to get out and get on with the season."

Friday night the Cats trailed Rice Lake by as many as 12 late in the second quarter before cutting the gap to ten, 26-16, at halftime.

Murphy hit a layup to open the third quarter and cut the lead to 26-18, but Rice Lake answered with a 15-4 run to open up a 19-point lead, 41-22, with under a minute remaining in the third.

Rice Lake's 6-foot, 9-inch sophomore phenom Henry Ellenson led all scorers with 20 points, including eight in the third quarter.

"We just couldn't match their physical play," Gaulke said. "You know Henry (Ellenson) is going to get his points. He's a man-child. But was disappointed with our perimeter play. When you've got a 6-9 guy clogging up the middle you have to hit some outside shots."

Freeborn led the Cats with 10 points while Murphy finished with nine and Eric Wunrow scored eight and pulled down a team-high six rebounds. Call contributed four points, including the Cats' only three-pointer of the night.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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