WAUKESHA - The emotional journey to a state championship can often be a heart-wrenching, humbling experience.
The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha men's basketball team learned that firsthand as it lost to UW-Sheboygan 81-70 in a Wisconsin Collegiate Conference quarterfinal playoff game Saturday afternoon.
It was a stinging season-ending home-court loss for defending WCC state champion UW-Waukesha, which was seeking its third consecutive trip to the WCC Final Four but finished 16-10 overall.
UW-Waukesha led 41-37 at intermission but struggled to maintain the momentum as it was outscored 44-29 in the second half.
UW-Sheboygan built a 72-67 lead with 2:51 remaining and made 9 of 10 over the course of the final two minutes to seal a hard-fought, physical victory.
Freshman wing Jayden Hardy from Nicolet had a team-high 23 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot to lead the Cougars, who made six baskets from 3-point range and 12 of 19 free throws.
Hardy scored seven points during the final eight minutes, including a mid-court steal and hard-driving layup to trim the deficit to 61-60 with 7:08 left.
Sophomore post player Kurt Meyle from St. John's Northwestern Military Academy contributed 14 points with two 3-pointers for UW-Waukesha, which generated 16 assists and forced 17 turnovers. Freshman wing Ben Schaefer from Muskego followed with nine points, eight rebounds, a team-high seven assists and two steals.
Freshman guard Jackson Kunnert from Pewaukee chipped in eight points with two 3-pointers, four rebounds and an assist.
Freshman post Phillip Griffith from Gladstone, Mich. collected eight points with freshman wing Sebastian Luksich from Arrowhead adding six points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Sophomore wing Anthony Kroening from Home School had two points.
"We battled hard the entire way and I wouldn't have expected anything less from this group," said UW-Waukesha fifth-year head coach Adam Ligocki, whose team responded with an inspired 14-4 run in the first half.
"Throughout the day, we made every single play we needed to make in order to get the victory but UW-Sheboygan just made a ton of their own. From beginning to end, it was one of those, great edge-of-your seat playoff games that came down to the final few minutes. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side of it this time.
"It was a difficult loss but can't take anything away from what we accomplished this season."
Nate Serketich - an imposing 6-foot-9 sophomore forward - registered a double-double by finishing with a game-high 35 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot for UW-Sheboygan, which improved to 17-10 overall and advanced to face UW-Marathon in the WCC state semifinals at JustAgame Fieldhouse on Saturday at 6 p.m. Freshman guard Quentin Beaudoin had 19 points for the Wombats, who made five 3-pointers, 24 of 32 free throws and maintained a 42-29 rebound advantage.
COUGAR FAST FACTS
What: The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha men's basketball team lost to UW-Sheboygan 81-70 in a Wisconsin Collegiate Conference quarterfinal playoff game Saturday afternoon.
Record: 16-10 overall
Scoring Leaders: Jayden Hardy (23 points), Kurt Meyle (14 points), Ben Schaefer (9 points), Jackson Kunnert (8 points), Phillip Griffith (8 points), Sebastian Luksich (6 points)
Rebound Leaders: Schaefer (8), Hardy (7), Kunnert (4), Luksich (4), Meyle (3)
Notable: UW-Waukesha led 41-37 at intermission but struggled to maintain the momentum as it was outscored 44-29 in the second half.