No. 20 Green Bay 54, Loyola of Chicago 38
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)
Even when No. 20 Green Bay isn't playing its best, it still finds a way to win - and win big.
The Phoenix missed 21 of their first 23 shots in the second half, but still maintained a double-digit lead. Green Bay didn't allow Loyola of Chicago to get any closer than 13 points in winning 54-38 on Sunday in the Horizon League tournament championship game. It was the 24th consecutive victory for Green Bay (29-2).
''It's the same thing we've been saying the four years we've been here, it's all about defense. It's always been defense,'' said Green Bay senior Sarah Eichler, who scored a game-high 16 points. ''I think that we played really good defense in the second half.''
The stifling Green Bay defense held Loyola to just 7-of-22 shooting in the second half. But Green Bay was just 8 of 34.
''We didn't get into the lane at all. You've got a 17-point lead and our key thing for that game is, `Don't turn it over,''' Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth said. ''That was our No. 1 thing on that board. We felt the game was going to be determined by points off turnovers.''
It certainly was. Green Bay outscored Loyola 12-1 on points off turnovers.
It's Green Bay's third league tournament title in a row and the fifth straight year the team will compete in the NCAA tournament after receiving an automatic bid.
The Phoenix (29-2) finished the year a perfect 19-0 against Horizon League teams after winning the regular-season title with a 16-0 record. They beat Loyola twice during the regular season, including a 65-62 win in early February.
Simone Law led the Ramblers with 12 points and a career high-tying 14 rebounds, for her ninth double-double of the season.
Green Bay never trailed in the game, but started slowly in both halves. The Phoenix made two of their first nine shots, but hit the next five to break a 4-4 tie and take a 15-6 lead. Eichler and Adrian Ritchie made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 21-8 - giving Ritchie 10 points in the 17-4 run - and eventually Green Bay led 34-17 at halftime.
Ritchie, who broke the Green Bay record for career 3-pointers, was selected tournament MVP. She also had a team-high nine rebounds on Sunday.
''We got some turnovers and we just ran on them a little bit,'' Ritchie said about the first-half run. ''I sat early with a foul, so I wasn't even in rhythm, really, I just tried to get back in. We all try to do little things. Little things lead to big things, a 10-point run, or something like that.''
Green Bay went 5 1/2 minutes without scoring in the second half, but the Ramblers (17-15) couldn't get any closer than 38-27 in that stretch.
''Give our kids a lot of credit for playing some great defense in the second half and I thought we held them to a pretty good point total, but their defense is just so awesome,'' Loyola coach Eric Simpson said. ''We had a really hard time scoring, getting the ball to our best player, Simone Law, down on the block.''
Eichler said she and her teammates didn't get frustrating during the poor shooting run; the Phoenix players just maintained their composure.
''We have experience, especially when there's four seniors in there,'' Eichler said. ''Obviously, we want to hit those shots and we hadn't found our flow yet. We don't want to get lulled to sleep just because we're up 15. . Loyola's a good team. They can make a run just like that and it's a three-possession game.''
Breannah Ranger added 12 points for the Phoenix.
Loyola hit just 1 of 9 shots from 3-point range and 28 percent overall in the first half, while the Phoenix shot 50 percent.
Green Bay finished at 36 percent from the field while Loyola shot 30 percent.