By BRIAN LESTER
Disappointment wrapped its hands around the University of Findlay men’s basketball team after back-to-back losses on the road in early January.
The Oilers led Ferris State and Grand Valley State by double digits at one point and even had leads with five minutes to play.
Both times, those leads slipped away, and UF slipped right out of the NCAA Division II Top 25.
UF head coach Charlie Ernst called a team meeting before practice the next Monday and talked about one thing.
“I think the players thought I was going to talk about turnovers, missed free throws or bad shots. I didn’t talk about any of it,” Ernst said. We talked about defense.”
It was not the easiest meeting to hold, but Ernst said it is the reason his team turned the tide in how it has played on the defensive end of the floor.
The Oilers haven’t lost since, winning six consecutive games, and have held all but one opponent to under 70 points. In the last three games, UF hasn’t given up more than 49 points.
“I was upset, and it was one of those team meetings that wasn’t much fun for anyone, including me,” Ernst said. “We had an attitude adjustment that day and have devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to the defensive end. We have a greater appreciation for defense.”
That much is evident. The Oilers go at it hard, hustle for the loose balls and are willing to help each other out.
“We’re playing more team defense now,” said sophomore guard Dylan Kaufman, who leads the Oilers in steals (31). “Before, it was ‘I stopped my guy, so we’re okay.’ Now, if someone gets burned, we’re there for help side defense, taking charges or digging down. We have each others backs.”
The Oilers will need to be there for each other on defense tonight as well as Walsh invades Croy Gymnasium for a crucial 8 p.m. Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game.
UF (13-3, 9-3 GLIAC) lead the Cavs (12-3, 8-3) by a half game in the South Division and both teams are two of the four in the league with just three losses this season.
The Cavaliers average 86.1 points per game and shoot 49.3 percent from the field as a team. They are hitting nearly 40 percent (39.5) of their 3-point shots as well.
“This will take our best defensive effort,” Ernst said. “They have weapons all over the place. They will come at you with size, with shooting, with slashers. They bring all kinds of things.”
Sophomore guard Jesse Hardin is one of those weapons. He averages 16.8 points per outing and has drilled 37 treys. He has tallied 18 steals as well.
Senior forward Hrvoje Vucic is averaging 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and has stepped outside to knock down 23 3-pointers as well.
Freshman forward Trey Fletcher is clicking for 13 ppg for the Cavs, who have won seven of eight and are 6-1 on the road this season.
No has to remind the players of the challenge in front of them as they battle for the edge in the division race and stay on track for the right to host the conference tournament in March.
Preparation is key. And it’s something the Oilers have put a lot of time into as they have taken steps forward on defense.
“We spend hours watching film,” Kaufman said. “We know what our guy is going to do, and not only our guy, but we’re going to get switched off on other guys, so we know about those players, too. We learn tendencies and their strengths.”
Not only have the Oilers done a good with preparation, but the energy they play with on defense is intense
“We’re playing defense with passion, we’re playing defense with excitement and our guys are happy for each other when they make defensive plays,” Ernst said. It’s helped us grow as a team.”
UF is averaging 84.6 points per outing and allowing 68.1. The Oilers force 15.3 turnovers per game and senior forward Greg Kahlig leads UF in scoring at 22.3 points per outing.
Kahlig has scored 1,498 points and needs 24 to pass Frank Phillips (1,521) for 14th all-time. He is on pace to be the first Oiler to average more than 20 ppg in a season since Greg Denecker clicked for 20.3 during the 1993-94 season.
Records though, aren’t the focal point of the Oilers at the moment. It’s all about taking another step forward in the quest to win a conference title.
“It’s a huge game, just like every game in the GLIAC is big,” Kaufman said. “We know we need to be at our best, and success for us is going to start with defense.”
UF women set to battle Cavs
The UF women’s basketball team will take aim at its second consecutive win today when it plays Walsh in a 6 p.m. game at Croy Gymnasium.
UF (8-8, 5-7) is coming off a 73-60 win over Lake Erie on Saturday and is in the midst of a stretch where it is playing six of seven at home. Head coach Jim Wiedie called it a crucial stretch of games for his team.
“We need to take care of business here,” Wiedie said. “We have a chance to move up in the standings, and we need to be able to position ourselves to do that in this homestand.”
UF will be playing a Walsh team that has lost seven of its last eight games. The Cavaliers (6-11, 2-9) are averaging 70.8 points per game and allowing 73.9.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Funderburgh leads the Cavs as she averages 13.7 points per outing. She has knocked 35 3-pointers on the season.Senior forward Tara Gallupe is clicking for 12.8 ppg and freshman guard Jalynn Graham is averaging 10.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Margaret Wuebker leads the Oilers and has been the top scorer for UF in its last three games.
The sophomore forward has scored 14 or more in each of those games and is averaging 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. She has also blocked 12 shots.
Junior forward Lacey Kessler, a former Riverdale standout, is second on the team in scoring at 10.3 ppg.