Deja Vu at First Glance, But Differences Aplenty
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - The announcement that the Green Bay women's basketball team (30-1) heard on Monday's selection show brought back memories for many within the Phoenix program. Most of them were of the exciting and positive variety, and one more painful. As ESPN announced with a crowd looking on at the Kress Center, Green Bay would be returning to Ames, Iowa, and would yet again be facing the Iowa State Cyclones.
Just two years ago, after securing its first at-large bid, 12th-seeded Green Bay was sent to the Hilton Coliseum in Ames. It was there that Green Bay turned heads by pulling off a 69-67 upset over Virginia in the first round. The win earned the Phoenix a second-round date with Iowa State, the same program it will face on its home court this Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
The Phoenix put up an impressive fight against the fourth-seeded Cyclones and led late in an attempt to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time. In the end, Iowa State rallied for the hard-fought 60-56 win, ending a Cinderella run for the Phoenix.
Those memories came back on Monday night when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee decided to send the Phoenix back to Ames for a first-round meeting with Iowa State.
"We're excited to go back to Ames," said senior Julie Wojta (Mishicot, Wis.). "There are obviously a lot of good memories with that experience there minus the loss, but we're just excited and we're looking forward to it."
Much will be the same as 2010 on Saturday evening, with Green Bay's Matt Bollant and Iowa State's Bill Fennelly still patrolling the sidelines for their respective teams.
Five Phoenix players that played in that 2010 game will be there too, including Wojta and fellow senior Hannah Quilling (Eau Claire, Wis.), who suited up as sophomores that day. Four more current players competed in the game as freshmen - Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.), Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) and Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.).
Current Iowa State juniors Chelsea Poppens, Anna Prins and Amanda Zimmerman also played as freshmen in that contest. Prins went 3-for-3 from long range and scored 13 points for the Cyclones.
Maybe most notably, the Iowa State fanbase will again be there. Nearly 6,500 fans, a large majority of them donned in red and gold, watched the first meeting. ISU, with a 14-2 record at home, has a home attendance average of over 10,000.
"I bet they'll have 10,000 fans," Bollant said. "About two years ago, they had so many fans and a great atmosphere. They've averaged over 10,000 this year, so we're going to need our fans to come down and be loud because there are going to be a lot of loud Cyclone fans there as well."
The bracket announced on Monday undoubtedly made lots of Green Bay and Iowa State minds wander two years back in time, and while it is fun to look back, ultimately none of that will matter on Saturday evening. In reality, despite the similarities and connections between the two matchups, there are far more differences.
Green Bay's 2010 NCAA Tournament team went to Ames without a tournament win on its roster. It went to Ames with just five total tournament games on its roster. It went without a senior on its roster.
Led by seniors Wojta and Quilling, who will both play in their school-record seventh NCAA tourney game on Saturday, this 2012 Green Bay team goes to Ames featuring 31 games of NCAA experience. Wojta is no longer a shy sophomore looking forward to getting her first real tournament experience. She is a confident, senior All-American candidate who was featured on ESPN Monday as one of the nation's top players.
Since the loss to Iowa State on March 23, 2010, Green Bay has lost just three times. It has won two more Horizon League regular season titles and two more tournament championships. The Phoenix has added another magical NCAA Tournament run, culminating with a trip to last year's Sweet 16 and a battle with top-seeded Baylor.
Green Bay has become a mainstay in the top-25 polls and enters the tourney as a top-10 team, not as a double-digit seed looking for a signature win.
While the storyline is obvious and there are numerous memories that the team can draw upon if necessary, the Phoenix will not go to Ames later this week as a Cinderella story or as an underdog hoping for a road upset.
Instead, the Phoenix returns to Iowa as one of the nation's top teams, embracing and looking forward to the great challenge of playing a high-quality opponent on its home court.
"The players know we belong. They are very confident and they know what this is about. For Hannah and Julie it is their fourth time playing, and for the juniors it is their third time, so that experience should help." said Bollant. "In the NCAA it is all good teams. It is the 64 best teams in the country, so you just have to go play. You take the draw they give you and make the most of it. It is up to us."
The meeting between Green Bay, the Horizon League regular season and tournament champions and Iowa State, an at-large bid from the Big XII Conference, will take place at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, March 17 at 5:30 p.m. CT. Green Bay has an unblemished road record of 12-0 while Iowa State is 14-2 this season on its home court. The winner will play either second-seeded Kentucky (25-6) or the No. 15 seed, McNeese State (26-7) on Monday, March 19.
For ticketing information, please visit Cyclones.com. Single-session and all-session ticket packages are available. All-session tickets can be purchased for $30 for adults and $25 for youth (high school and younger). Single-session tickets are being sold for $18 for adults and #13 for youth.
To follow all of the action throughout Green Bay's trip to the NCAA Tournament, check out Tournament Central presented by Taco Bell.
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