WHITEWATER -- Winning national championships is part of the culture at UW-Whitewater, and it's not just the football team! The UWW men's basketball team is Sweet 16 bound!
Pat Miller has been the head of the Whitewater hardwood for more than a decade. A conference coach of the year three times, he has led the team to four NCAA titles. But some early exits in the NCAA showcased his squad's deficiencies.
"Even when we've had great offensive teams, in basketball, you're going to have poor shooting nights, and you need something to fall back on," Miller said.
Mainly, defensively. "We weren't going to go out and out-score people. We just didn't have that kind of offensive fire power, and we were going to have to win a different way," Miller said.
This year, the team's "D" has earned them an "A." Their defensive field goal percentage of 58.2 is the best it's ever been under Miller, tops in the conference, and sixth in the country for Division Three programs.
The transition to a defensive-minded team didn't just happen. The athletes were better suited for this style of play, but it was the addition of a coach - Coach Lou Chapman, that really catapulted the Warhawks to success. "Coach Lou" practiced and perfected his own scrappy style on the courts as a kid in Milwaukee.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, because I'm not that smart, that defensive rebounding wins championships, and our percentages last year, if we would have carried on, would not have allowed us to have success this year," Coach Lou said.
"We came in with an intensity that we didn't have last year," UWW sophomore point guard Alex Merg said.
Coach Lou came in with Division One playing experience, and on his first day in June, he implemented a system that required much more physical play, and didn't allow the guys to take possessions off.
"Go a lot harder and a lot faster and everything, so making the transition was pretty tough, but after the first couple weeks, it was easy," Warhawks freshman shooting guard Quardell Young said.
"Contesting every shot, making their shots difficult, making them work, especially in the second half - making them tired, which affects their ability to make shots," Merg said.
"I think it was the difference between the little things - just standing in a stance, getting wide, getting screens, and having the mentality that you're not going to get beat," Coach Lou said.
At 25-4, the Warhawks have rarely been beaten this year. Now, one of the last 16 standing, it's clear the players all bought in to the new philosophy. "Every team you have, you want to establish an identity, and for this team, it was just a different identity than we've had in the past at Whitewater," Miller said.
The Warhawks play Wheaton College Friday, March 9th at 7:30 p.m. A win would send them to the Elite Eight in Salem, Virginia next weekend.