WISCONSIN DELLS - Tough, gritty and inspirational.
That was a fitting way to describe the scrappy performance of the UWM-Waukesha women's basketball team as it lost to UW-Fond du Lac 63-47 in a Wisconsin Collegiate Conference state semifinal game at JustAgame Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
UWM-Waukesha, which advanced to the WCC Final Four for the second consecutive season and third time in the last four years, finished 5-14 overall.
The Cougars, who were competing with a shorthanded five-player roster, trailed 34-24 at halftime but displayed their heart and resilience by answering with a determined 14-5 run to trim the deficit to 39-38 with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter.
The momentum was short lived as WCC regular-season champion UW-Fond du Lac responded with a 6-2 run, including four straight points over the final two minutes to extend the lead to 45-40 at the end of the third quarter.
UWM-Waukesha was outscored by an 18-7 margin in the fourth quarter, including a decisive 6-1 run in the opening four minutes.
The Cougars cut the lead to 51-43 on an inside basket by sophomore wing Ariel Gonzales from Milwaukee Lutheran with 6:21 remaining but couldn't get any closer.
Freshman point guard Aleah Herron from Milwaukee Rufus King scored a team-high 15 points with two rebounds, two assists and a steal to lead UWM-Waukesha, which converted two baskets from 3-point range, 5 of 9 free throws and shot 32.8 percent from field-goal range.
Gonzales - who was selected to the WCC All-Tournament team - followed with 12 points with 2 of 3 free throws, nine rebounds, two assists and a steal for the Cougars, who battled foul trouble and fought through the fatigue over the course of the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Bri Jashinsky from Sussex contributed 10 points with two 3-pointers, 2 of 2 free throws, five rebounds and two assists for UWM-Waukesha, which was outrebounded 50-35 - including a key 18-10 margin on the offensive glass. Freshman forward Kylah Schmidt from Slinger registered an impressive double-double by finishing with 10 points, a team-best 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
Freshman forward Rataeshia Hartfield from Milwaukee Rufus King added six rebounds, two steals and an assist.
UWM-Waukesha was without the sharpshooting and on-court leadership of sophomore wing Taylor Peterson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a WCC quarterfinal home-court victory over UWM-Washington (64-29) on Feb. 14.
Despite the disappointing final outcome, UWM-Waukesha third-year head coach David Beebe was immensely proud of his team's performance under the glow of the state tournament spotlight.
"We asked them to leave it all out on the floor and there's not a doubt in my mind that they did that today," said Beebe, noting his team's tenacious defense and ability to limit UW-Fond du Lac to only one 3-point basket in the contest and high-powered freshman guard Hailey Rusch (who scored a game-high 31 points in their last meeting on Jan. 26) to just two points. "Looking back on the season, we had our share of ups and downs but I absolutely love this group. We were right there toward the end of the third quarter so this one hurts. I couldn't be more proud of them and how they handled the challenge.
"Considering Kylah's asthma and the injuries Rataeshia and Bri have battled through in the past, to have all three on the floor for a full 40 minutes was remarkable and a real testament to their heart and grit. We truly played as a team from the opening tip-off until the final buzzer. It was a golden opportunity to come out on the "Court of Champions" and prove that we belong and we accomplished that goal."
UW-Fond du Lac took advantage of its depth with seven players reaching the scoring column, including four in double figures.
Freshman guard Gretchen Puls scored a game-high 17 points with 5 of 6 free throws, eight rebounds, one steal and an assist for UW-Fond du Lac, which improved to 9-5 overall and advanced to meet UWSP-Marathon in the state championship game. Sophomore point guard Kelsey Margelofsky, sophomore center/power forward Hannah Preissner and sophomore guard/strong forward Cassidy Williams each added 13 points for the Falcons, who made 12 of 15 free throws and shot 37.3 percent from the field.
COUGAR FAST FACTS
What: The UWM-Waukesha women's basketball team lost to UW-Fond du Lac 63-47 in a Wisconsin Collegiate Conference state semifinal game at JustAgame Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
Final Record: 5-14 overall
Scoring Leaders: Aleah Herron (15 points), Ariel Gonzales (12 points), Bri Jashinsky (10 points), Kylah Schmidt (10 points)
Rebound Leaders: Schmidt (10), Gonzales (9), Rataeshia Hartfield (6), Jashinsky (5), Herron (2)
Notable: The Cougars trailed 45-40 after three quarters but were outscored by an 18-7 margin in the decisive fourth quarter.