WICHITA, Kan. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - With a strong contingent fans looking on Tuesday night, Kansas was almost like home for the Green Bay's women's basketball team. But for the Phoenix, there is no place like the Sweet 16, a place the program had never been before.
Another wire-to-wire victory helped the No. 13/11 Green Bay women's basketball team to a 34-1 record and its 25th-straight victory, but advancing to the program's first Sweet 16 certainly was not easy. Sophomore Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points, and fifth-seeded Green Bay (34-1) led throughout Tuesday night, holding off fourth-seeded Michigan State (27-6) 65-56 at INTRUST Bank Arena.
Ritchie combined with junior Julie Wojta (Michicot, Wis.) to score 38 of the team's points, aiding the efforts of two senior Horizon League Players of the Year, Celeste Hoewisch (Hortonville, Wis.) and Kayla Tetschlag (Sheboygan, Wis.).
"Thank God for his blessing and favor for our team," said head coach Matt Bollant , whose four-year record moved to 117-16. "We have been so fortunate and I am so happy for our team. I stood in the locker room before the game and told the girls that this is right and this is fair because of how hard they have worked, their integrity and their character. It is the best team that I have ever been around. Life isn't always fair and the right thing doesn't always happen, but more than any other game that I have ever been a part of I felt like the right thing happened today."
Just over a month after the Green Bay Packers claimed Super Bowl XLV in North Texas, the Phoenix will head there in hopes of pulling off an upset of No. 3/3 Baylor, led by 6-foot-8 All-American Brittney Griner. Green Bay will meet the Bears, the top seed in the Dallas Region, Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. CT at American Airlines Center.
"Our maturity has grown leaps and bounds since last year," senior Celeste Hoewisch (Hortonville, Wis.) said. "We have so many people that can step up for this team, and everybody takes their turn. This team just had a will to win that is contagious, and I could not be more proud of this team."
Even though Green Bay never trailed and led by 12 at the break, there was uncertainty during the team's second round matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
Using a 9-0 run early in the second half, Michigan State had cut a 12-point halftime lead (35-23) to just one with 12:29 to play. Ritchie, who scored 13 points in the first half to spark Green Bay's lead, drained a three to make it 44-40 at the 11:11 mark.
For Ritchie, it was her fourth three-pointer in the biggest game of her young career. The sophomore hit 6-of-10 field goals, including 4-of-5 from long range in 33 minutes off the Phoenix bench. The bench scoring for the game finished at Ritchie with 20 points, Michigan State with zero.
"They have been stepping up for us all season. Everybody has taken their turn," Hoewisch said of her younger teammates. "The way they played tonight was just inspiring. Julie just flying around on the boards and giving up her body, and Adrian stepping up with ice water in her veins hitting threes was amazing to watch and amazing to be a part of it."
Despite the efforts of Ritchie and Wojta, Green Bay still led just 48-46 with 7:02 on the game clock. Tetschlag then knocked down a pair of free throws, and Hoewisch then scored five-straight points as part of a 7-0 run that moved the lead to nine (55-46) with 4:44 to play.
Tetschlag, who has scored 93 points in five career NCAA Tournament games, fought through a tough shooting night to finish with 10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Hoewisch totaled 14 points and four steals in 39 minutes, coming out only for a minute due to cramps just moments before hitting her dagger three-pointer.
"It is a game you have to have your top players on the floor, and they have to be the ones to make plays," said Bollant. "Kayla stepped up and made free throws, and Celeste overcame injuries and I thought the threes she hit in both games were really momentum changers for us."
Michigan State cut the lead to 60-56 with 43 seconds to play, but including a pair by from Ritchie on the next possession, Green Bay knocked down 5-of-6 free throws in the last 20 seconds to seal its historic victory.
"In big games, the stakes are higher and it is fun to go to battle with this team," Ritchie said. "We always say our go-to player is our open player, and certain nights that is me and certain nights it is not. I never really think tonight is a big game or tonight I am going to play better. It is just the way our program is cultured and the way we put our teammates first."
The stakes are only getting bigger for Ritchie and the Phoenix, whose record-breaking season is still alive."Obviously Baylor is a very difficult matchup, and Brittney Griner is possibly the best player in the country," said Bollant. "I certainly do not want to limit us, and I feel like this team is capable of playing high level basketball. We play as hard as anyone in the country, we are disciplined and unselfish and we have a lot of qualities that could lead to a possible upset, and we are excited to embrace that challenge."