By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, top-seeded No. 20/20 Green Bay (28-2, 16-0 HL) will host third-seeded Loyola (17-14, 10-6 HL) in the Horizon League Championship game on Sunday. The contest, scheduled to tip at 12:05 p.m., will be televised live on ESPNU with Jim Barbar handling the play-by-play and 2000 USA women's basketball Olympic gold-medal head coach Nell Fortner providing color analysis.
The Phoenix advanced to the final round after grinding out a physical, gritty 71-54 victory over rival Detroit, the No. 4 seed. Green Bay opened the game on an 8-2 run, but Detroit would battle back to eventually take the lead midway through the opening frame. With the help of a 9-2 run halfway through the final period, the Phoenix was able to pull away for the double-digit victory.
Redshirt sophomore Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) led the way with 19 points on a 3-5 effort from downtown, improving her season average against Detroit to 16.7 points per game. The Canadian import has now scored 19 or more points in three of six career meetings against the Titans.
The Phoenix also contained the Titans dominant post presence in Shareta Brown, holding the All-Horizon League first team selection to just nine points. The sophomore failed to score in double figures in all three meetings this season. Green Bay also forced 20 Detroit turnovers, and capitalized with a 24-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
SCOUTING LOYOLA: The Ramblers advanced to their first-ever Horizon League Tournament championship game after shocking No. 2 seed Youngstown State 72-45 in the first semifinal game on Friday. Behind All-Horizon League First Team selection Simone Law's 29 points, Loyola made easy work of Horizon League Player of the Year Brandi Brown and the Penguins.
A SNOWY CHICAGO EVENING: In the first meeting this season, Green Bay fought a blizzard on the way to the Gentile Center and fought an even stronger Loyola attack once inside the arena. Loyola gave the Phoenix its toughest test of the 23-game winning streak, leading the visiting team by two late in the game. With the score at 62-60 in favor of Loyola, Green Bay scored five unanswered points to bring home the three-point win.
FORCING TURNOVERS: In the second meeting less than two weeks ago, Green Bay defeated Loyola 63-37 at the Kress Center after forcing an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers. After entering the game averaging just over 11 turnovers per game, the nation's second-best mark, Green Bay's stifling defense forced the Ramblers to tie their season-worst mark of 21 mistakes.
TV STARS: Sunday's game will be the fifth televised game for Green Bay this season. In all five matchups, the Phoenix was victorious for a perfect 5-0 record on the tube. The current 23-game winning streak kicked off in a televised contest at Marquette.
EXPERIENCED EICHLER: With an appearance in Sunday's championship game, senior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) will tie the record for most games played with 132. In the 40-year history of women's basketball, only one other player has achieved that number. Assuming Green Bay plays at least one game in a postseason tournament, Eichler will graduate as the most veteran player in the program's storied history.
RECORD-BREAKING RITCHIE: In Friday's win against Detroit, senior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) tied the program's career 3-point field goal record with 192 triples in her career. She also moved into the top-10 in the career steals category with 231, and has already attempted more shots from long range than any other player in program history with 527.
AN AWARD-WINNING MATCHUP: Sunday's championship game features four All-Horizon League players, led by All-Horizon League First Teamers Adrian Ritchie and Loyola's Simone Law. Sarah Eichler is a Second Team selection for Green Bay, while Loyola's Taylor Johnson also made that list. Ritchie, Eichler and Law were all featured on the league's All-Defensive team, while Johnson was named to the All-Newcomer team.
SENIOR SUCCESS: Green Bay's five-member senior class is now 9-1 in Horizon League Championship games after Friday's win over Detroit. The class also boasts a 4-3 record in the NCAA Tournament with a Sweet 16 appearance and two trips to the Second Round. To date, the five seniors have helped the program achieve a remarkable 121-15 record under their watch.
SELECTION MONDAY: With a win in the championship game, Green Bay will host a special Selection Show event on Monday at 6 p.m. with the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. at the Kress Center as the team awaits its seed, opponent and destination for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. If Loyola wins on Sunday, there will not be a selection show event.
FOLLOW IT LIVE: Fans can listen live on Friday
as Bruce VandenPlas will have the call on The Fan 107.5
FM, 1400 AM and TheFan1075.com. Live stats
will also be available, and the game will be televised on ESPNU. Be sure to follow @GBPhoenixWBB and @JustinGrones on Twitter for updates throughout the game.
Also, be sure to check out Championship Central on GreenBayPhoenix.com for information
regarding tickets, brackets, highlights and more.
For the latest and most up-to-date information on Green Bay Athletics, please visit GreenBayPhoenix.com.