Xtra Points: Warhawk men talk Final Four
What's better than one Final Four? How about two?
The UW-Whitewater men's and women's basketball programs are both heading to the NCAA Division III Final Four this weekend, an impressive feat to be sure.
We'll have coverage in the paper all week leading up to the events and reporters at both sites (men in Salem, Va., and women in Stevens Point) when the games tipoff.
For men's coach Pat Miller, a Janesville native, this year has been about letting his team maintain its personality.
"They're a loose group, not a great practice group," Miller told me this week. "But that's who they are. When it's time to play, they play hard.
“I've just kind of learned over time that you have to deal with the personalities you have. You're not going to change guys. With these guys, letting them be loose and doing what they do, there is probably more laughter and looseness than I'd like, but that's who they are.”
Hard to argue with the results. His Warhawks are 27-4 heading into Friday's national semifinal against Illinois Wesleyan.
And Miller doesn't seem to have to do much policing when it comes time for business.
"We kind of came in (Monday) and everyone was kind of just fooling around," UW-W senior guard Eric Bryson said. "I want to set the tone that it's not over yet. We've still got two games to win, which is a big thing we need to instill. It comes down to every possession; you can't take a possession off. … Enjoy the experience while you're out there, but also take this as a business trip.”
It's the third meeting between Whitewater and Illinois Wesleyan in as many seasons. The Warhawks have won nonconference regular-season meetings each of the past two years.
"They're very deep, very physical, shoot a lot of 3s, shoot them well," Miller said of the scouting report. "They're not a very tall team, but they're a very strong team. Six-foot-5 guys that are 240 that can step out and shoot, but can also play in the post."
The Warhawks will benefit from a core of players that went to Salem for the Final Four just two years ago and emerged as national champions.
Bryson, fellow senior Alex Merg and juniors Quardell Young and Cody Odegaard all played sizable roles for that team.
“I definitely draw on that (experience)," Miller said. "It's nice having the familiarity with the routine, where you're flying into, where you're going to stay, how it's organized. I have a lot better sense for what to expect. … And there's no question (familiarity helps for the players).”