The 11th-seeded Green Bay women’s basketball team trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, but rallied to within one possession of LSU before falling, 75-71, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament played at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
“I thought our kids really rallied,” Green Bay Head Coach Kevin Borseth said. “They came back in the second half and really rallied, got it down to one possession. Didn't look like we were going to get it there, but we got it there, and we had an opportunity. So I was very proud.”
The Tigers scored on their first six possessions of the second half to turn a five-point halftime lead into a 14 point lead at 46-32 with 16:24 left in the game. LSU hit six of their first eight shots of the second half and rebounded both of their missed shots and scored on the ensuing shot.
The Phoenix got their first stop of the half at the 15:56 mark, but couldn’t capitalize and after missing a shot, LSU came back down the court and knocked down a three-pointer to extend its lead to 49-32.
“We talk about the most important time of the game is that first five minutes after halftime, and they came out and went on a huge run, and it gave them a lot of momentum,” senior forward Sarah Eichler said. “I think that that stretch there was hard to come back from.”
The Tigers took their biggest lead of the game on a Theresa Plaisance layup to make the score 54-36 with 12:38 remaining.
Green Bay would start battling back from that point.
The Phoenix went on a 7-1 spurt, highlighted by four points from Eichler to get within 12 with 9:04 left in the game.
LSU’s lead was still 13 – 65-52 – with 6:41 remaining when senior forward Jenny Gilbertson knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to get the Phoenix within seven.
LSU tried to end the Phoenix streak with a three-pointer, but the shot missed and Eichler knocked down a three-pointer on the other to get Green Bay within four, 65-61, with 5:06 left.
Bianca Lutley answered for the Tigers on the next possession, knocking down a three-pointer to pump LSU’s lead back to seven. Both teams would exchange empty possessions for nearly two minutes before Lutley completed a three-point play to give LSU a 71-61 lead with 3:05 remaining.
The Phoenix had one run left in them though as Gilbertson hit a layup to cut the lead to eight and Eichler hit a three-pointer on the next possession to bring GB to within five.
Green Bay came up empty on its next two possessions, while the Tigers added a free throw to take a 72-66 lead with 59 seconds left.
Megan Lukan cut LSU’s lead in half with a three-pointer and the Phoenix forced a missed jump shot by LSU with less than 20 seconds left in the game, but the Tigers corralled the rebound and Green Bay was forced to foul. Plaisance knocked down both free throws to give LSU a 74-69 lead with 15 seconds left in the game.
Lukan drove right down the court and brought the Phoenix back within three with a layup. Green Bay tried to make one final steal as LSU inbounded the ball, but could not come up with a turnover and Danielle Ballard made one of free throws with under five seconds left to secure the Tiger victory.
“We tried to rally as much as we could, and we fought as hard as we possibly could, because that's who we are,” Ritchie said. “We're not about to fall over because you're on your homecourt and everything's going your way. That's not who we are, not how we're raised in the culture of this program. We tried to do our best.”
Green Bay was led by Eichler who finished with 22 points on 8-13 shooting from the field. Ritchie was next with 16 points, while Gilbertson recorded a career-high 15 points.
Fellow senior Lydia Bauer also reached double figures with 11 points.
Lukan passed out eight assists to lead the Phoenix in that category. Green Bay finished the game with 19 assists on its 26 made field goals.
The game marked the final appearances in a Green Bay uniform for seniors Bauer, Eichler, Gilbertson, Ritchie and Stephanie Sension. The five seniors went a combined 66-4 in Horizon League play in their four seasons with the Phoenix, making the NCAA Tournament every season, where the team made three trips to the second round and one appearance in the Sweet 16.
“They really are a remarkable bunch of young ladies,” Borseth said. “They say you make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give, and those kids got a lot. They got a lot. But I think they gave a lot more than anything. They gave to the University, they gave to the city of Green Bay, they gave to the little kids in the area, gave them something to look up to. They gave to each other. You know, that's pretty big. It really is.
I'm very proud of them, and they should be very proud of themselves. (They) left a very lasting mark on Green Bay women's basketball, and it will be very hard to duplicate for anybody.”