By BRIAN LESTER
As the University of Findlay men’s basketball team headed into the locker room Saturday afternoon after a hard-fought 79-69 win over Lake Erie College, the focus immediately shifted to the showdown with Walsh University.
The talk was about getting payback for a brutal loss to Walsh last month that knocked the Oilers into second place in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division.
The Cavaliers dominated the Oilers inside Croy Gymnasium on Jan. 30 and won 81-61.
Round two is tonight and a lot will be riding on it as the Oilers (19-4, 15-4 GLIAC) and 22nd-ranked Cavaliers (19-3, 15-3) square off in a 7:30 p.m. battle at Alumni Arena in Canton.
First place will be on the line in the division and the winner will stay in the hunt for the top seed in the upcoming GLIAC tournament. Positioning in the NCAA Division II tournament is also at stake.
UF is ranked eighth in the first Midwest Region poll. WU is fifth. The top eight make the tourney in March at the site of the top-ranked team, which is currently defending national champion Drury.
“They are a very good basketball team and we know it’s going to be a challenge,” senior forward Greg Kahlig said after scoring 40 points in Saturday’s win over the Storm. “We have confidence going into the game and we have to be ready to bring our best effort.”
UF head coach Charlie Ernst said he didn’t need to tell his team much as it prepared for its crucial date with the Cavaliers.
“They know it’s a big game and understand the importance of it,” Ernst said. “But I don’t want to oversell it because every game at this point is big. I expect our guys to be ready.”
The Oilers played hard the first time they battled the Cavaliers but struggled to get off to a good start in both halves. They fell behind 12-2 in the opening half and allowed Walsh to open the second half on a 9-0 run for a 46-34 lead.
“Walsh won most of the 50-50 balls in that game because they played with great effort,” Ernst said. “They are a very good rebounding team and have good athleticism. We have a lot of respect for their basketball team.”
The Cavaliers have won eight consecutive games and 14 of their last 15 overall. They are averaging 84.0 points per outing and sophomore guard Jesse Hardin leads the way with 15.1 points per game.
Senior forward Hrvoje Vucic is averaging 13.2 ppg and freshman forward Trey Fletcher is clicking for 11.2 points per outing. Junior forward Jeff Copeland is also scoring in double figures, averaging 11.0 ppg. The Cavaliers are shooting 49.2 percent from the field as a team and allowing 67.3 points per outing.
Ernst said one of the keys to success against Walsh will be patience on offense.
“We have to be smart on offense. We can’t take quick shots because those can lead to transition baskets, and we don’t want to have to spend the night defending them in transition,” Ernst said. “If we are patient in our offense, we will be successful.”
The Oilers have put more of an emphasis on working for the best shot possible and are putting up 81.9 points per outing.
Kahlig has led the way, averaging 22.8 ppg, and he remains on pace to be the first Oiler since Greg Denecker (20.3) in 1993-94 to average more than 20 points per outing.
UF is shooting 48.4 percent from the floor as a team, and defensively, the Oilers are giving up only 68 ppg and have held 11 opponents to less than 70 points while keeping 20 opponents to less than 50 percent shooting from the field.
“Our focus is on being disciplined on defense and not give them the same looks they got the last time,” Ernst said. “We need to mix up our defenses. We are at our best when we do that.”
The Oilers appear to be confident as they get set to head out on the road for the third time this month. UF has had its share of success away from home, winning its last five en route to fashioning an 8-3 road record.
“Our guys understand it takes something extra to win on the road. The guys have been focused in practice this week to make sure they are ready for the challenge,” Ernst said.
UF women seek road win
The UF women’s basketball team will look to stay in the hunt for the GLIAC tournament when it battles WU at 5:30 p.m. today at Alumni Arena in Canton.
The Oilers (11-12, 8-11) need to win out their remaining three games to have a shot at advancing to the tournament. UF is in 10th in the standings. The top eight get in.
UF defeated WU 56-51 last month at Croy Gymnasium. The Cavaliers (9-15, 5-13) have won two of their last three games and are playing their final home game of the year tonight.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Funderburgh leads the Cavaliers with 15.3 points per outing, while senior forward Tara Gallupe is averaging 13.3 ppg and freshman guard Jalynn Graham is recording 12.0 ppg.
Sophomore forward Margaret Wuebker leads the Oilers at 12.8 points per contest and junior guard Ciara Geiger is averaging 10.0 ppg.
Senior guard Karli Beasley is averaging 7.3 ppg and is coming off a career-best 22-point performance in an 85-68 win over Lake Erie College on Saturday.