AMES, Iowa (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - Down 17 at halftime against second-seeded Kentucky (27-6), No. 10/10 Green Bay (31-2) faced the biggest challenge of its season. For most teams, it would have been insurmountable, but this is not most teams. The Phoenix met the challenge with flying colors, putting the Phoenix fans in the Hilton Coliseum and those watching with the rest of the nation on ESPN2 into a frenzy.
In the end, the comeback did not result in a Phoenix victory and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, with Green Bay falling 65-62 to the Wildcats. Win or lose, the thrilling comeback and never say die attitude was a fitting end of the careers of senior Julie Wojta (Francis Creek, Wis.) and Hannah Quilling (Eau Claire, Wis.) and a perfect display of a program that has posted a record of 65-4 in the past two seasons and appeared in four consecutive NCAA tourneys.
"Green Bay never quits. We fight," said Wojta. "We give everything for a full 40 minutes."
"The second half is what we are all about," said Quilling. "It is what Green Bay Basketball is all about, and what we want people to remember."
Wojta and Quilling end their careers having compiled a record of 122-13, the most wins by any class in school history. Monday's game was their school-record eighth NCAA tournament game, and their four tournament wins are also the most by any Phoenix players.
"They have played in eight NCAA Tournament games," said head coach Matt Bollant. "For them to go out like this shows a lot about their character."
The senior duo and its teammates found themselves trailing 42-25 at halftime after falling behind 21-6 early. Green Bay shot just 8-of-30 in the opening half and watched Kentucky score the final seven points before intermission.
With 12:44 remaining in the game, Kentucky still led by 16 points (49-33). Green Bay got things going on both ends of the floor after that. In just over three minutes, the Phoenix went on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 51-46 with 9:18 on the clock.
Quilling knocked down a three and had five points during the spurt. She finished with nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field.
"I told our younger players after the game, 'you can learn a lot from Hannah Quilling about what it means to be a basketball player,'" said Bollant.
UK got four points from Samarie Walker to push the lead to nine, but Green Bay responded with the next eight points to get the deficit to one. Wojta had the last six points of the run to make it 55-54 with 6:15 to play.
Kentucky pushed its lead back to five on jumpers from Walker and senior Keyla Snowden, but Green Bay responded yet again. Junior Lydia Bauer (Lake Zurich, Ill.) followed a Wojta offensive rebound with a three-pointer, and then Wojta drained a jumper to tie the score for the first time since it was 2-2.
Green Bay forced two more UK turnovers and finally took its first game of the lead on a free throw by freshman Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) with 1:57 to play. Unfortunately, the free throw marked the last points of the night for the Phoenix.
After an empty possession for both teams, Snowden drained a jumper for the Kentucky lead with 16 ticks left. Lukan raced into the paint but had her contested layup come off the rim. Eichler grabbed the rebound and kicked to Bauer at the top of the key, but her three-pointer missed left.
Snowden was fouled and made a pair from the charity stripe with six seconds left, leaving Green Bay with one possession to tie it. The Phoenix got a great look from junior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.), but the three-pointer came off the rim.
Wojta played all 40 minutes and finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and a program NCAA record 10 steals. Her defense helped the Phoenix force 34 turnovers and corral 21 steals. Each number set a new program record for NCAA tournament play.
Junior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) matched Wojta with 16 points while Ritchie added eight points and eight rebounds.
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