RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- The River Falls boys’ basketball team made it official last week, beating both Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire North on the road to clinch the Big Rivers Conference outright.
It’s the fifth BRC title in program history for the Wildcats and the second in the last three years.
The Cats needed to win just one of their final two regular season games to be undisputed champs and did it in a big way with a 104-71 victory over defending conference champion Chippewa Falls Tuesday night, Feb. 9. They followed that up with a 59-40 win Thursday night at Eau Claire North to finish 10-2 in BRC play, 17-2 overall.
“This past week was a great way for us to wrap up a strong regular season,” Wildcat coach Zac Campbell said. “You want to be sure you are challenging yourself heading into the playoffs and to hit the road against two double-digit win teams and come away with victories checks that box.”
To put the Wildcats’ 17-2 season in perspective, every team in the BRC conference finished above .500 in their non conference games, and of the Cats’ seven non conference opponents, only one finished below .500 this in their league.
River Falls used the long ball to top the century mark in their victory at Chippewa Falls last Tuesday, hitting 18 3-pointers on their way to a 104-71 win.
JT Dougherty accounted for six of those threes on his way to a 26-point night while Zac Johnson scored a team-high 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, including three from 3-point range. Jacob Landgraf was 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and finished with 17 points while Liam Dougherty scored 13.
JT Dougherty also pulled down a team-high eight rebounds while Johnson had seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Landgraf had six rebounds, four assists and two steals and Michael Schurman had seven rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots while Chris Chapin dished out a team-high six assists.
River Falls shot 55 percent from the field (38-of-69), and were 18-of-35 from beyond the arc while outrebounding the Cardinals 41-25. They led 58-39 at halftime.
“We found a rhythm from the perimeter early and never lost that confidence as the game wore on,” Campbell noted. “When we played them at our place we were able to get a lot of points in the paint. They did a better job of taking that away this time and our team responded with knocking down 18 threes.”
Two nights later at Eau Claire North, the Wildcats made just one 3-pointer but held the Huskies to just 34 percent shooting from the field (14-of-41) in a 59-40 victory.
Johnson led the Wildcats with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, and Schurman scored 14 points while JT Dougherty contributed 11 points, including the Cats’ lone 3-pointer, and seven rebounds.
“Aesthetically this game likely wasn't as enjoyable for fans to watch compared to Tuesday nights,” Campbell said. “However I thought we played a better game overall. We were able to take North out of their action in the second half and controlled game flow.”
River Falls is the No. 1 seed for its Division 1 regional and will host the winner of Tuesday night’s game between No. 4 Menomonie and No. 5 Superior in a regional semifinal game Friday night, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m.
Campbell said the Wildcats’ regular season record means nothing in the postseason.
“We challenged ourselves this year and the boys answered the bell,” he said. “In saying that, the postseason doesn't care one bit about the regular season. We have an important week of preparation in front of us as our regional is loaded with talented teams. Putting together a complete 36 minute performance will be our focus throughout the week.”
Hudson takes No. 2 seed into postseason
Hudson closed out the regular season with a 90-75 win at Rice Lake in its BRC finale Thursday, Feb. 11, before beating a physical Sun Prairie squad 73-57 Saturday to finish the regular season 8-4 and in second place in the conference and 14-5 overall.
The Raiders, the No 2 seed in the Division 1 regional, will host No. 3 Chippewa Falls for a semifinal game Friday, Feb. 19.
“In a year where we faced so much adversity with lost time to injuries and COVID related issues, I feel like we are in a great place heading into the postseason,” Raider coach John Dornfeld said. “Of course we have a tough draw playing a very good team in Chippewa Falls in the first round and then facing either River Falls, Menomonie or Superior in the second. We are playing well though and our confidence level is high, so we feel really good about our chances.”
Dornfeld pointed out the Raiders have won 14 of their last 16 games, and haven’t lost at all this season with both Cole Jacobson and Brandon Moeri in the lineup.
“And now with Andre (Renta) returning, we feel like we are fully loaded for the first time all year,” he added.
Renta made six 3-pointers on his way to a 26-point effort Thursday at Rice Lake in addition to coming up with nine rebounds and three steals. Luke Healy led all scorers with 37 points, including five threes, to go along with six rebounds and six steals, while Moeri continued to facilitate Hudson’s half-court attack with eight assists while Jacobson had seven.
“Both players made huge contributions despite not having big scoring nights,” Dornfeld said. “We did a great job moving the ball and had a team total of 24 assists, which is outstanding.”
Saturday at home against Sun Prairie, the Raiders jumped out to a 42-25 halftime lead and after seeing it cut to nine in the second half pulled away for a 73-57 victory.
Healy led the way with 23 points and pulled down seven rebounds while Renta finished with 17 points and six boards. Moeri hit three early 3-pointers and finished with 14 points while Jacobson and Carter Herink scored eight points each.
“We had good all-around offensive and defensive performances from everyone,” Dornfeld said. “Sun Prairie had a size strength advantage so one of our priorities coming in was to match their physicality and really take care of the defensive boards.”