Blugolds fall in triple overtime in NCAA Tournament

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 11:27 PM CST
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CHICAGO ( — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire women’s basketball team pushed Whitman to the limit, but ultimately came up just short in an 85-81 defeat in triple overtime in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Blugolds overcame a late deficit to force an additional period three times, but Whitman emerged in the third overtime to advance to the second round.

UW-Eau Claire trailed by three with 36 seconds left in regulation and made a pair of game-tying free throws with less than two seconds on the clock in the first overtime period. They also erased a four-point deficit in the final minute and a half of the second overtime. However, the Blues built a five-point lead in the third overtime and clung to it to win a wild NCAA Tournament game.

“Epic game,” Blugolds coach Tonja Englund said. “Twenty-three years here, and I’ve been coaching for a long time, played a lot of games and have never been in a triple overtime. Credit to Whitman, they played great. I thought both teams just battled, didn’t want their season to end. A lot of gritty plays from both teams, great players on both teams — everything that you could probably ask out of an NCAA game.”

The game featured 10 ties and seven lead changes. Each side made big plays down the stretch to prolong the contest, which became the first triple-overtime NCAA Tournament game in the Blugolds’ program history.

“In the end, there’s just those little things a lot of times that are important pieces of what you do,” Englund said. “I thought throughout the game, there were times when both teams could have changed the game, and the other team battled back and found a way to stay in it. I think credit to both teams, and for me especially, my five seniors that have played for me. They went out giving everything they possibly could, and that’s all I could ever ask.”

The Blugolds got off to a fast start in their return to the NCAA Tournament. UW-Eau Claire scored the first seven points of the game and ran out to an early 10-2 lead. Jessie Ruden (Sr. – Rochester, Minn./John Marshall) hit a pair of 3-pointers in that span. The Blues cut into the deficit steadily across the rest of the opening period though, pulling to within four at one point. UW-Eau Claire led 17-12 entering the second quarter.

UW-Eau Claire held onto a slim lead throughout most of the second period. Whitman whittled the deficit down to one point on two occasions, but the Blugolds kept them at bay with 3-pointers by Tyra Boettcher (Sr. – Menomonie, Wis.) and Ruden. However, the Blues closed the half on a 6-0 run to turn a five-point hole into a 31-30 advantage at the break.

Whitman opened the third quarter on an 11-4 run to establish an eight-point lead at 42-34. The Blugolds had an answer across the four minutes of the period though, and closed on a 9-2 run to whittle the deficit down to one at 44-43.

Whitman led by six early in the fourth quarter, but the Blugolds stormed back to take a 52-51 lead on a layup by Courtney Crouch (Sr. – White Bear Lake, Minn.) at the 4:08 mark. The Blues responded with a quick 5-0 run to go ahead by four with two minutes left, and later hit a layup with 36 seconds remaining to go up 58-55. Ruden came up clutch in the waning moments of regulation to extend the game, drawing a foul on a 3-pointer and knocking down all three free throws to tie the game with 27 seconds left.

“We trust each other as a group on the court and off the court, and we also trust the process,” Ruden said. “We did play very tough opponents and came back from large deficits during the season, so I think we had a cool head and just trusted in each other.”

The Blues hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 53 seconds left in the first overtime, and added a free throw later to make it a 66-64 lead with 33 seconds to go. But Crouch got to the free throw line with 1.6 seconds left, and coolly knocked down both attempts to tie the game at 66 and force a second overtime.

Whitman led 74-70 with 1:37 left in the second overtime before the Blugolds rallied with a 6-0 run by Kylie Strop (Jr. – River Falls, Wis.), putting UW-Eau Claire ahead 76-74 with six seconds remaining. The Blues hit a shot in the final seconds to send the game to a third extra period.

The Blues opened the third overtime on a 5-0 spurt, and the Blugolds weren’t able to quite close the gap. The closest they got was 82-81, but Whitman scored the final three points of the game to put it away.

Ruden led all scorers with 22 points. Crouch had 18 points and seven rebounds, and Bailey Reardon (Sr. – River Falls, Wis.) added 15 points and five rebounds. Boettcher had eight points and eight rebounds. Kylie Mogen (Sr. – Menomonie, Wis.) tallied seven points and four rebounds, and Strop finished with nine points off the bench.

The Blugolds finished the season 20-9. They reached the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. They’ll graduate five seniors in Boettcher, Crouch, Mogen, Reardon and Ruden.

“I am so blessed to be a part of this group, a part of this team,” Crouch said. “I couldn’t have asked for better coaches or better players or a better senior class. Like Jessie said, we are so close on and off the court. We’re all great people, and that’s what matters the most: that you surround yourself with great people. And that’s what you get with this program.”