Facing its largest deficit, Oregon reverted back to what worked best on the road against Watertown: full-court pressure defense.
The adjustment paid off down the stretch, as the Panthers beat the Goslings 44-36 on Thursday, Feb. 13, to clinch the outright Badger South Conference championship.
“This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season and we knew we had the potential to do it,” Oregon senior point guard Izzie Peterson said. “Knowing we accomplished it is a crazy feeling.”
The Panthers (16-4, 12-1 Badger South) won their seventh conference title in program history and first since 2015 despite two key absences. Leading scorer Liz Uhl (15.1 points per game) was out with the flu, and Megan Bloyer was sidelined with a sprained shoulder.
“The team held together and was confident,” Oregon coach Adam Wamsley said. “I’m so proud and happy for them. It’s such a great group that works so hard at basketball.”
Watertown (14-6, 9-3) scored the first four points after halftime to take their first lead. The two teams traded buckets before the Goslings scored eight straight to lead 34-26 with 8:10 left, forcing an Oregon timeout.
“We were getting good looks and turning the ball over a little too much, but we needed to get a few more steals,” Wamsley said. “That’s what super-charged us at the end.”
The Panthers created turnovers and forced the Goslings into quick shots, helping them finish the game on an 18-2 run.
Senior guard Kaitlyn Schrimpf nailed Oregon’s only 3 of the second half, and junior guard Carleigh Roberts swiped a steal and dished a pass to classmate Jaelyn Nedelcoff to tie it at 36 with 4:15 left.
Schrimpf was intentionally fouled after recording a steal, but was shaken up after coming down hard on her left elbow. Sophomore guard Emily Mortenson calmly stepped to the charity stripe and knocked down two free throws to give Oregon the lead for good with 2:46 remaining.
Junior forward Emily Statz made a layup off a pass by Roberts, and Schrimpf and Roberts each knocked down a pair of free throws in the final 38 seconds to salt the victory.
The first half was a defensive slugfest similar to the teams’ first meeting Jan. 7, when the Panthers edged the Goslings 32-28.
Oregon jumped out to an 8-0 lead and held Watertown in check with five steals in the first seven minutes. The Goslings missed their first seven shots before a layup by Teya Maas with 10:50 left in the first half.
Oregon struggled with turnovers against Watertown’s 1-3-1 zone for the remainder of the half, but the Goslings remained cold shooting, as the Panthers led 18-15 at intermission.
“It’s always a hard defense for us to play against,” said Roberts, who scored a team-high 13 points. “We just stuck it out and grinded through it.”
Peterson finished with nine points, Schrimpf added nine and Statz chipped in seven.
Maas had a game-high 16 points and Avalon Uecke added eight for the Goslings.
Panthers earn 2 seed in D2 postseason
Oregon was awarded the second seed in the Division 2 Janesville Craig Sectional, and will host the winner between Mount Horeb and Baraboo in the regional semifinals Friday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m.
DeForest nabbed the top sectional seed.