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Green Bay puts on dancing shoes

Jacob Westendorf, Sports Writer/Commentary
March 27, 2013
Filed under Sports, Top Stories

After going undefeated in conference play throughout the regular season, the No. 20/20 Green Bay women’s basketball team won the Horizon League Tournament Championship by defeating Loyola 54-38 March 17 at the Kress Events Center.

The Phoenix showed tenacity on the defensive end of the floor. Stephanie Sension was sensational early, starting the game with a basket for the Phoenix and drawing three offensive fouls in the first 12 minutes of action.

“Stephanie has great footwork for a tall girl,” said coach Kevin Borseth. “She took some charges early for us and really gave us some intensity on the defensive end of the floor. It was big for us.”

Sension was not alone in her defensive prowess, as teammates Megan Lukan and Lydia Bauer locked up Loyola’s Simone Law, Monica Albano and Taylor Johnson. The Ramblers’ trio of Law, Albano and Johnson combined for 26 points and shot just 10-35 from the floor.

“It’s just like we have said for four years,” said senior forward Sarah Eichler. “It’s always been about defense here — the little things lead to big things. Megan and Lydia did a good job with their assignments.”

Those little things led to the biggest Phoenix run of the game. Adrian Ritchie spearheaded an offensive outburst early in the first half. After sitting early with a foul, Ritchie came in ready to score.  She made her first basket with 13:45 remaining in the first half and followed that with a flurry of 3-pointers. Ritchie led the 17-4 run, contributing 10 of her 15 points, which helped her earn tournament MVP honors. Along with leading the run, Ritchie’s first 3-pointer gave her the school record for most made with 195. Despite these accomplishments, Ritchie’s focus was on more than her own success.

“Ultimately the honors are nice, but the best part is the relationships I’ve developed with these girls, and I’m excited to share this with my teammates,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie, along with the entire Phoenix team struggled to score in the second half, shooting 23.5 percent. But their intensity did not waver on the defensive end of the floor, as the Ramblers shot 29.8 percent in the second half. The Phoenix women, despite starting 2-23 from the field in the second half, maintained their composure and never allowed the Ramblers to get closer than 11 points.

“Having four seniors on the floor definitely helped,” Ritchie said. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we can always fall back on our defense.”

Eichler led the team in scoring and was a steady presence, making several key plays in the first half.

“Loyola is a really good team that can go on a run just like that, so if our shots aren’t putting the ball in the basket, we need to make sure they aren’t either,” Eichler said. “We were able to do that today and that’s why we’re headed back to the tournament.”

The game ended fittingly with Ritchie hitting her final 3-pointer in her final home game. She and Eichler left to a standing ovation from the large crowd at the Kress Events Center.

Now the fun for the Phoenix women begins. Winning the conference tournament guarantees them a fifth straight bid in the NCAA tournament and its fourteenth appearance overall. The team is focused on the task at hand.

“It’s a waste of energy to worry about seeding,” Eichler said. “Last year there was some disappointment about it, but ultimately we have to prepare the same way. Once the game starts, those numbers don’t mean anything.”

Coach Borseth is happy to be back in the tournament. He said  he was just along for the ride and he has a special group of girls. Borseth said coming into the year with the success this team has had, his goal was simply to not screw things up. He didn’t, and now the Phoenix women once again hold the title of Horizon League champions.

Green Bay received its tournament bid with an 11-seed.  The Phoenix will take on the Louisiana State University Tigers at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center March 24.