By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - In front of the largest crowd at the Kress Center this season, the No. 25/RV Green Bay women's basketball team clinched at least a share of a 15th consecutive regular season Horizon League title, the longest active streak in Division I women's basketball. The Phoenix defeated Valparaiso 80-38 to improve to 22-2 and 12-0 in conference play. The Crusaders dropped to 9-16 and 4-8 in the Horizon League.
Green Bay opened a dominating first half on an 18-2 run, led by redshirt sophomore Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) who topped her previous season high of 13 points with 16 first-half points-single-handedly outscoring the Crusaders in the first 20 minutes. Lukan, who entered the game with seven three's on the season, hit her first of four on the afternoon with 10:37 remaining in the first half, pushing the lead to 23-7.
Lukan helped push the lead to 21 points when she found Breannah Ranger (Skokie, Ill.) in the post for a 30-9 advantage with 6:11 left in the half. Ranger finished the game with 11 points and 10 rebounds, her second double-double of the season and of her career.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Thomas (Wausau, Wis.) tied her career high with two free throws late in the opening frame, giving Green Bay a 39-13 lead at the break. In addition to Lukan outscoring the Crusaders in the first half, the Phoenix held the visiting team to just 3-29 from the field-good for a 10.3 percent mark.
Valparaiso opened the second half on a 6-2 run with a layup and three from Shaquira Scott and a three from Charae Richardson, cutting Green Bay's lead to 41-21. Senior Lydia Bauer (Lake Zurich, Ill.) sparked a 7-0 run in response, hitting a jumper off a diving pass from fellow senior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.).
With exactly nine minutes remaining, Lukan completed a three-point play to give her 22 points on the afternoon, breaking her previous career high of 20 points set in last year's Horizon League Tournament Championship game against Detroit. The play also sparked a 13-0 run over the next five minutes, helping the Phoenix extend the lead to 68-34.
With 1:19 remaining, Ranger grabbed her 10th board of the game to notch her second double-double this season. On the ensuing possession redshirt freshman Ellen Edison (Maple Grove, Minn.) found freshman Brionna Barnett (Elkhart, Ind.) for three, putting all Green Bay players in the scoring column on the day.
Redshirt junior Sam Zastrow (Algoma, Wis.) tied her career high with five points after she hit two free throws late in the game, sealing the 80-38 win.
With the victory, Green Bay has won 17 straight games, good for fifth-all time in program history for consecutive regular-season wins. The win also marks the 16th time this season Green Bay has held an opponent under 50 points, and the fifth time an opponent has failed to reach 40 points. Green Bay held the Crusaders to just 21.2 percent from the field in the contest, setting a season-low for an opponent field goal percentage.
Lukan paved the way to victory with 22 points, while Eichler and Ranger joined her in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Redshirt senior Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.) went 4-5 for eight points on her birthday, while Ritchie and Zastrow each had five points.
Valparaiso did not put a player in double figures, but was led by Scott with nine points. The Phoenix held Preseason All-Horizon Leauge Second Team selection Tabitha Gerardot to just two points on 1-6 from the field.
With a Youngstown State loss earlier in the day, the win guarantees Green Bay will have at least a share of the regular season Horizon League title. The title is the 15th straight for the Phoenix, which is the longest active streak for regular-season titles in NCAA Division I women's basketball.
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE: Green Bay will play three of the final four contests of the regular season on the road, starting with a road trip to Detroit and UIC next weekend. Green Bay will look to win the Horizon League title outright when the team battles the Titans next Thursday at 6 p.m. CST. The Phoenix will then travel to Chicago to take on UIC next Saturday in a 7 p.m. matchup.
PINKZONE SUCCESS: Today's PinkZone game raised $12,778.70, pushing its five-year total at Green Bay to $89,964.60. The Phoenix teamed up with the great efforts of Bellin Health, Broadway Automotive and Cellcom to donate the funds to the Patience Assistance Fund at the Cancer Team at Bellin Health.
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