Michelle Farrow had just checked into the game, and her team’s season was falling apart.
After a near-disastrous meltdown that turned a 4-point lead in the final 13 seconds into a 3-point deficit, Western Illinois had one last gasp. With Waukesha West’s Farrow, a Leathernecks junior, on the floor in the final 2 seconds, Illinois native Taylor Hanneman hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to force overtime, and Western prevailed for a 77-69 win over IUPUI in the Summit League Tournament championship game March 7. The win gave Western its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1995.
“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions,” Farrow said. “I thought we had it in the bag, and then some calls were made and then we didn’t have it in the bag anymore. I was on the bench when those two free throws put them ahead, and our coach put Taylor Hanneman and I in and set up a play for her to knock down the three. It happened so fast when she hit it. We literally let this game slip through our hands, and then everybody was thinking it was our game again when we took them to overtime.”
Farrow and her teammates learned Monday that they would be traveling to Tallahassee, Florida, to face third-seeded Florida State in the first round of the tourney March 17. Western, a team with four Wisconsinites on the roster, is seeded 14th.
Game time is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, and the contest will air on ESPN2. The Leathernecks (26-6) finished the season with 11 straight wins, including eight that spotted them the regular-season title and three in the league tournament in South Dakota.
Farrow, whose lone basket in the game came right before half and pulled her team to within 32-30, set a screen that ultimately wasn’t utilized on the final play. She’s the top reserve for the Leathernecks, averaging 5.8 points per game.
“It's just like such an accomplishment to win the regular season and prove we can win the conference tournament, too,” Farrow said. “It's what you dream about when you're little and you don’t think it will come true, but you're living it. Especially with such a close knit team, you couldn't ask for more.”
The Leathernecks certainly had to earn it.
IUPUI beat Western Illinois twice during the regular season but still had the No. 2 seed in the league tourney.
Western Illinois had led by 4 points with 13 seconds left, but IUPUI hit a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, Western missed two free throws, and IUPUI’s Holly Hoopingarner drew contact and made two freebies with 4 seconds left to take a 62-61 lead. Not only that, but IUPUI picked off the inbound and quickly went to the line again for two more free throws and too a 64-61 lead with less than 2 seconds on the clock.
The Leathernecks called timeout, which enabled them to advance the ball to midcourt in women’s college rules. Germantown native Taylor Higginbotham found Hanneman wide open at the top of the key for the 3-point look that she buried as the horn sounded. In overtime, the Leathernecks pulled away to win convincingly.
“We knew that we could beat this team, and I think that was an extra chip on our shoulder, since it was the only team that we hadn't beaten in conference,” Farrow said. “We really focused on our rebounding and held them to five offensive rebounds in the championship game.”
Journey to Macomb
Located in the 20,000-person city of Macomb, a quiet town 70 miles west of Peoria, Western Illinois received a commitment from Farrow before her senior year. Midway through that final campaign with the Wolverines, she tore her ACL.
“When the season rolled around, I still wasn’t 100 percent ready to go, so I decided to redshirt,” Farrow said. “It helped get my feet back under and me and helped me return to the player I was.”
She said she fills “whatever role my team needs me to do,” and she logs 18 minutes a game.
“Definitely the coaching staff (drew me here) and being such a tight-knit community and knowing how much the community supports women’s basketball,” Farrow said. “After games, there’s always a handful of grandparents that we hug that have been coming to women’s basketball games for a long time. They believe in us and the program has been able to turn it around. I liked the challenge of coming to a program that was being built; when I came in, I don’t think the school had been over .500 in a while.”
It’s taking a big step forward now, and Farrow is a part of the ride.
Weitzer, UWGB seeded eighth
Waukesha South alumna Lexi Weitzer and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay women’s team was seeded eighth in the NCAA Tournament and will take on Purdue at Notre Dame. With a win, the Phoenix would face the Fighting Irish, a top seed with former Divine Savior Holy Angels standout Arike Ogunbowale in the starting lineup.
UWGB, with a roster composed entirely of Wisconsinites, finished 27-5 and won the Horizon League Tournament. The 6-3 Weitzer has started 30 of 32 games, averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14 minutes per game.
Waukesha County alumni competing in the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournaments beginning this week:
Men: TJ Schlundt, Wisconsin (Oconomowoc/St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy); Tevin King, South Dakota State (St. John’s post-grad); Riley LaChance, Vanderbilt (Brookfield Central)
Women: Lexi Weitzer, UW-Green Bay (Waukesha South); Michelle Farrow, Western Illinois (Waukesha West); Jessica Cattani, Florida Gulf Coast (Muskego); Abby Gerrits, Northern Iowa (Pewaukee)