Bears upset IWU to win Lopata Classic Championship
Maybe it was all in the mustaches.
With four of five starters still sporting their looks from No-shave November, the No. 10 Washington University men’s basketball team remained undefeated after a 67-57 win over No. 7 Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday, claiming its 13th-straight victory in games in the Lopata Classic. Just as last year’s Lopata Classic upset win over No. 1 Augustana instilled the belief that the Bears could beat top-flight competition, this victory could have the same effect.
Junior guard Alan Aboona, one of the mustachioed Bears, earned tournament most valuable player honors with averages of 20.5 points, six rebounds and four assists in the two games. Aboona scored 15 points against Illinois Wesleyan, including three-of-seven shooting on three-pointers.
“The thing with Alan [Aboona] is that he’s become very comfortable in what his role is,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “The most difficult position to play for me in my system is point guard.”
The Bears held the Titans to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and improved to 7-0 on the season.
Wash. U. went into the half with a 37-29 lead but picked up its shooting accuracy and rebounding after the intermission. The Bears opened a 21-point lead with 8:02 remaining.
“Our rebounding really picked up in the second half,” Aboona said. “In the first half, they really outrebounded us—that’s why I feel they hung around in the game. But once we shored up all those offensive tip-ins they had, we really turned it around.”
In their first game of the tournament against Wilmington College, the Bears recovered from some early-game jitters to claim a 73-62 victory on Friday. Aboona led the team with 26 points and 10 rebounds and shot a Lopata Classic record 14-14 from the free-throw line. The tournament is in its 29th year.
“I just got to the line a lot,” Aboona said. “Free throws is what I did—over half my points were free throws…the long threes weren’t really falling for me today, but I just got to the line.”
Wilmington flustered the Bears out of the gate with its full-court press, which caused many of their 23 turnovers in the game. Wilmington jumped out to an 11-4 lead before Wash. U. recovered ground thanks to a three-pointer by Aboona and tough play inside by junior forward Chris Klimek, who finished with 19 points on eight-of-10 shooting.
“We knew they were going to press the majority of the game, and you can only practice attacking the press so much, and then you’ve just go to find it out for yourself,” Klimek said.
Klimek scored 13 of the Bears’ first 20 points despite enduring several blows to various body parts over the course of the first half. In one sequence, he suffered an elbow to the face from a Wilmington player. No foul was called, but the Bears took possession of the ball and fed it to Klimek, who fell to the floor on another hit.
“I got a lot of shots—bumps and stuff like that,” Klimek said. “It wasn’t anything too serious—it wasn’t anything like a strain, just a dead leg or a shot to the head. I had a few of those.”
While Klimek fought through the body blows, the Bears continued clawing back. With the team trailing 32-25, Aboona was fouled as he hoisted a three-point attempt. He sunk all three free throws to cut the deficit to four. Minutes later, Aboona hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer that tied the game at 37-37.
The Bears carried their momentum into the second half, pushing ahead by seven points before a steal and breakaway tomahawk dunk by Wilmington’s Malcolm Heard that brought the score to 49-44.
Wilmington closed the gap to 59-57 with 5:05 left, but the Bears widened the lead to 64-58 after Aboona drove to the basket for a three-point play.
The Bears outrebounded the Quakers by a 43-18 margin, including 27 combined boards from Aboona, sophomore forward Matt Palucki and senior center Rob Burnett. The Quakers committed 11 turnovers and made only 6 of 17 free throws.
Edwards praised his players for the weekend’s performance, singling out Aboona and Klimek, who were both named to the all-tournament team. Edwards also lauded the contributions of Palucki, who has seen an increased role from his freshman campaign.
“Matt Palucki has been the unsung hero for every weekend so far,” Edwards said. “I want to tip my hat to him.”
The Bears return to action Wednesday at Webster University. On Saturday, they will travel to Wheaton, Ill., for a matchup against former Bear Brayden Teuscher, who transferred to Wheaton College this year.