The game changed on the defensive end for the UW-Baraboo/Sauk County men’s basketball team on Wednesday night.

A switch from man-to-man to zone sparked a 16-0 run midway through the first half and UW-Baraboo/Sauk County went on to claim an 86-71 home win over UW-Richland.

The decisive first-half run started with a basket by Christian Webb and a 3-pointer by Hudson Barsness that gave the Spirits (4-4) a 21-14 lead and forced a UW-Richland timeout with 10 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the first half.

The UW-Baraboo defense turned it on coming out of the timeout. The Spirits, who had opened the game in man-to-man, used a trapping zone to force a shot-clock violation and jump ball on consecutive possessions.

“We started in man-to-man and they were driving and getting layups so we said ‘Hey, let’s throw in our 2-3 (zone),” UW-Baraboo head coach Scott Gilbeck said. “And it paid dividends; that was the turning point.”

The defensive pressure allowed the Spirits to get out and run and they opened up a 32-14 lead before UW-Richland’s Michael Birkley scored with 6:12 remaining in the half.

UW-Richland (2-9) trimmed the deficit down the stretch, as Birkley hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds and UW-Baraboo took a 40-29 lead into halftime.

The Roadrunners carried that momentum into the early portion of the second half, pulling within 44-37 and forcing a UW-Baraboo timeout with 18:24 to play.

The Spirits answered by picking up the pace. Barsness hit a midrange jumper, Webb got inside and scored and Alex Serrano made back-to-back layups to stretch the lead to 53-39.

The Roadrunners didn’t threaten the rest of the way, as the Spirits opened up as much as a 72-44 lead with under 7 minutes to play.

Everything starts on the defensive end for the Spirits, who entered the night giving up 88.5 points per game in their four losses while holding opponents to 63.7 points per game in their three wins.

UW-Baraboo scored a season high in points to end a two-game losing streak that included losses to UW-Rock County and UW-Marathon County.

“We had a group talk, kind of a captain’s talk with our whole team,” Gilbeck said. “We brought everybody together and sifted through some things.”

Webb paced the Spirits with 20 points, while Barsness added 19, John Franklin chipped in 13 and Matthew Pauley finished with 12.

Birkley scored a game-high 25 points for the Roadrunners, who were without leading scorer Ari Davis.

The Spirits will take a holiday break before hosting UW-Fond du Lac on Dec. 30. UW-Baraboo suffered a 104-81 loss at UW-Fond du Lac in their lone meeting last season.

Follow Brock Fritz on Twitter @BrockFritz

Capital Newspapers Regional Sports Reporter