WICHITA, Kan. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - "The bigger the game, the better she plays."
Those were the words of head coach Matt Bollant Sunday evening after watching senior Kayla Tetschlag (Sheboygan, Wis.) will her team to a hard-fought win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tetschlag scored 14 of her 24 points in the second half and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to lead fifth-seeded Green Bay (33-1) to a 59-55 win over 12th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock (23-8) at INTRUST Bank Arena. The Phoenix reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season, again pulling out a close win.
As she continues to play well in the big dance, the Co-Horizon League Player of the Year might as well be called Miss March. The 6-foot-1 senior is now averaging 20.1 points per game in four career NCAA Tournament games. Her performance Sunday, which included making 10-of-16 shots, helped to ensure her team will live to dance another day.
The Phoenix will face Michigan State at 8:40 p.m. CT on Tuesday. The Spartans, the fourth seed in the Dallas Region, defeated 13th-seeded Northern Iowa 69-66 on Sunday evening.
"I like the high level of competition," Tetschlag said about her NCAA success. "Our team has been playing well all season, and I was just excited to get to this point. We have a really talented team, and I knew my teammates were right behind me. I can't explain it, I do not know what it is. I just get those extra butterflies before the game that get me going."
In a game pitting two of the best defensive teams in the country, No. 13/11 Green Bay started slowly on the offensive end and trailed 17-10 with 11:49 to play in the opening half. A big three by sophomore Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) started a 9-0 run to give the Phoenix the lead, and Tetschlag and junior Julie Wojta (Michicot, Wis.) scored their team's final 13 first-half points as Green Bay went to halftime leading 28-23.
Wojta added 10 points to Tetschlag's 11 in the opening half and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. The duo helped offset the loss of senior Celeste Hoewisch (Hortonville, Wis.), who played just 12 first-half minutes due to foul trouble.
Green Bay also switched to its zone defense after UALR started the game 6-of-6 from the field, and it helped force 11 turnovers and the Trojans to make just three of its final 14 first-half shots.
"Give Little Rock a lot of credit for how they came out and took the lead," said Bollant. "Early in the game they were getting by us off the dribble, but I thought the [zone] defense really switched the momentum in the first half. Our ability to get stops and take them out of rhythm was huge."
After being held to just five points in the first half, UALR's Chastity Reed, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, found her groove after the break. She scored 10-straight points for the Trojans at one stretch, helping her team take a lead on three separate occasions.
During that stretch, Tetschlag kept her team around the lead with eight-straight points for the Phoenix.
"It was a lot of fun," the senior said of her matchup with Reed, who also finished with 24 points. "We live for these kind of games, and we haven't had a lot of them this year."
The Trojans' last lead was 37-36 with just over 10 minutes to play, but Tetschlag's bucket started a 15-4 run that gave Green Bay a 51-41 advantage with 4:40 on the clock.
A testament to the depth and balance that has helped the Phoenix to 24-straight victories, five different players scored during the run, with Ritchie, Hoewisch and sophomore Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) each draining three-pointers. Eichler's three, a high-arching rainbow over the outstretched arms of Reed, capped the run.
Eichler finished with nine points for Green Bay while Ritchie scored six points and added five rebounds and four assists off the Green Bay bench.
"I thought Sarah's three with the big arch was a big three, and Celeste [making that three] really helped our team because once she made it, our team thought, 'oh, she is okay, and if Celeste is alright, we are okay,'" Bollant said.
After the Trojans cut the lead to six, Tetschlag made her best play of the night, although one that will not show up in the box score. With UALR's Shanika Butler streaking down the floor, Tetschlag stepped in and took a charge. The charge not only gave the Phoenix the ball back but also sent Butler to the bench with her fifth foul.
"Kayla is a fighter and she is so fun to play with, and when you look at her you just want to go to fight with her," said Ritchie. "You want to play hard, get her the ball and work hard on defense. She is contagious, she leads us and we feed off her energy. She is a great player and I just love to watch her play."
Green Bay hit six of its eight free throws in the final minute to seal the victory and move onto the second round.For more information on the NCAA Tournament and for exclusive content on the Phoenix throughout the postseason, please visit GreenBayPhoenix.com's NCAA Tournament Central presented by Taco Bell.