Men stifle Wartburg with tour-de-force 'D'
Put the Buena Vista University men's basketball team in a must-win situation, and an opponents' odds of winning are power-ball-like.
"We have a very competitive group," said eighth-year BVU coach Brian Van Haaften. "You put their backs against the wall, and they're going to come out fighting and keep fighting."
The BVU did that and more this week, winning the Iowa Conference title in a walk that included a 70-48 rout of second-seeded Wartburg here at Siebens Field House Saturday night for the IIAC playoff title.
The BVU men played good defense for the entire tournament, but were at a peak performance level on the defensive end against the Knights.
The Beavers held Wartburg to just 19 first half points on five of 21 shooting (23.8 percent), vaulting to a 35-19 halftime lead. They outscored the Knights 35-29 in the second half for the final margin, improving to 24-4 overall and advancing to their fourth national tournament in the last five years.
"We're playing our best basketball of the season," said senior post player Scott Weber, who has played in national tournaments three times in his career. "We picked a good time to be doing that."
The Beavers got the top seed in the NCAA DIvision III West Region and open second round tourney play at home Saturday night.
They'll meet either Lakeland College of Wisconsin (16-12) or Lawrence College of Illinois (21-4) in that second round game. Those two teams square off on Lawrence's home floor Wednesday night.
"It's a do or die situation for us," added Weber. "You're always playing with your backs up against the wall in the national tournament."
That might not bode well for the Beavers' opponents in the next two weeks, especially with the kind of defense the Beavers have been playing.
"Defense has always got to be there for us, and we started emphasizing it about three weeks ago after two conference losses in a row," Van Haaften said. "We know if we play good defense, our offense will take care of itself."
Weber agreed, adding, "when you play good defense, it just leads to good offense."
That was the case Saturday night against Wartburg in what might have been the most physical home game of the season.
Weber was a warrior like he's been all season, finishing with a double-double that included a game-high 17 points and 12 rebounds. He was six of 13 from two-point range and five of seven from the line.
"We knew it was going to be a relatively low scoring game, because against Wartburg, you just don't get as many possessions," Van Haaften said.
Even when the Knights did get a possession, it didn't often result in points.
According ot Van Haaften, his players double-teamed Wartburg's post players and also guarded well beyond the arc. It limited power forward Rance Cartmill to just eight points and high scoring guard Jason Steege to four points. Not one Wartburg player reached double figures.
"We wanted to make it difficult for them on every possession," added Van Haaften. "And we wanted to make their post players pass instead of shoot."
Offensively, the Beavers showed good balance. Off-guard Eric Wiebers added one three-pointer and finished with nine points while junior power forward Randy Bissen added eight points. Point guard Casey Pelzer added seven points, ten assists and six rebounds.
"I thought we played well offensively," added Van Haaften. "We made some nice passes and were finding the open man."
Meanwhile Wartburg's assist-to-turnover ratio was nightmarish, as the Knights had just five assists and 23 turnovers. BVU's numbers were 21 and 12.
All told, the Knights shot just 14 of 49 from the field, including three of 19 from the arc. It would have been worse if they hadn't made 17 of 20 free throws.
Wartburg did manage to outrebound BVU 35-31. But the Beavers were consistent offensively, hitting 13 of 26 field goal attempts in the first half and 13 of 28 in the second.
Added Weber: "We're pleased with the way we played in the conference tournament. There are still things we need to work on, because at times, there are stretches during games where we let down a little bit. But the intensity was up for us this week and it will be again in the national tournament."