The 2008-09 season did not go as the Panthers had hoped and they found themselves playing in the Horizon League Tournament First Round. For a team that had grown accustomed to hosting quarterfinals games, this was not a welcome sight. Despite that, Milwaukee made the most of its opportunity.
As the No. 7 seed, UWM hosted No. 10 Youngstown State and handily defeated the Penguins, 70-49. The game was a good set up for things to come. Milwaukee had just closed out the regular season at first-place Green Bay two days prior and, if UWM was to make the most of the tournament, it wouldn’t have much rest over the course of the week.
And make the most of the tourney, the Panthers did…
Two days later, playing at No. 2 Butler in Indianapolis, Milwaukee was trailing 52-42 with just under three minutes remaining. All the Panthers did was score the final 11 points of the game and win 53-52. They made the most of their opportunities down the stretch and capped off with a Traci Edwards lay-up with 8.8 seconds remaining. Butler’s final opportunity resulted in an off-balance jumper and Milwaukee moved on. Lindsay Laur was a key contributor in the run, scoring the first five points and grabbing the final rebound as the game ended.
With as much excitement as one team can handle, the Panthers returned home late Wednesday night after the game, only to load up a new bus Thursday and head to Green Bay. UWM faced a semifinal showdown with No. 3 Cleveland State at the Kress Center.
Now, let me ask you a question: If I told you the Vikings would score the first 14 points of the game and only three Milwaukee players would score, while the rest of the team combined to go 0-for-10 from the field, what would you think?
To be honest, I’d be happy with the run to the semifinals and have expected the season to be over with, unceremoniously, in Green Bay. But, that’s not what happened, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.
Cleveland State did jump out to a 14-0 lead. But, the Panthers answered with a 14-2 run and knotted the score at 21-21 with five minutes remaining in the first half. A comeback like that is noteworthy in and of itself, but it does not end there.
A minute and a half after tying the score, UWM took the lead for the first time and never relented. Riding offense from Traci Edwards, Ashley Imperiale and Lindsay Laur, the Panthers stormed past the Vikings, 63-57.
Edwards and Imperiale scored 24 points apiece and Laur added 15 as the trio accounted for all 63 of the team’s points. While those three held down the scoring, the rest of the team still did their parts. Markita Barnes dished out 10 assists and had seven rebounds, nearly accomplishing the first assists/rebounds double-double in school history. Jodie McClain added five assists, compared to just one turnover.
Milwaukee’s fateful run ended two days later in the championship game, but it was an impressive run, none-the-less. Milwaukee played five games in eight days, winning three-straight in a five-day span and doing so with inter-state travel between each.
The Panthers were the first team in league history to play in the first round and make it to the championship game. They were also just the second No. 7 seed to make the title game.
As the 2009-10 season winds down, it looks like UWM could be playing in the league first round again, but this year, the Panthers know what is possible.