By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
BATON ROUGE, La. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – Trailing 59-47 with just over eight minutes to play, the No. 11 seed Green Bay women’s basketball team used a 14-6 run to come within four points of No. 6 seed LSU on its home court after the Lady Tigers had led by as many as 18. Minutes later, sophomore Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) hit a three with 47.8 seconds remaining to pull the Phoenix within three at 72-69, but a trio of late free throws spoiled the road team’s comeback attempt as LSU prevailed with a 75-71 win in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
With the loss, the Phoenix finished the season at 29-3 and saw its 24-game winning streak come to an end. Having last lost on Dec. 5 at Central Michigan, Green Bay’s three losses this season were by just 11 combined points.
“Our goal at the end of that game was to get a stop—we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country and needed to get a stop,” head coach Kevin Borseth said. “I thought our kids battled, but LSU just made some shots. They turned out to be pretty good 3-point shooters after not shooting that much during the year.”
Green Bay opened the game on an 11-4 run with three’s from seniors Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.), Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) and Jenny Gilbertson (Wabasha, Minn.). But from there, an LSU team that shot less than 30 percent from behind the arc on the season stepped up its game from long range.
The Lady Tigers hit back-to-back triples to come within one at 11-10, but a deuce from Ritchie extended the lead back to three. The teams then answered each other with a combination of old-fashioned 3-point plays and shots from long range, tying the score at 19-19 with 8:10 left in the opening frame.
LSU took its first lead of the night less than a minute later, but a triple from Bauer gave the visitors a 24-23 lead with just under five minutes to go in the first half. The lead was short-lived, however, as the Lady Tigers used a 9-1 run to pull ahead with a 32-25 advantage.
Ritchie hit a pair from the line with 1:12 remaining for the final points of the first 20 minutes, leaving Green Bay down 32-27 at the half.
LSU came out of the break red-hot and built on its 17-3 run from the first half, scoring eight unanswered points to start the second frame. Trailing 40-27 less than two minutes into the second half, Borseth called a timeout to rally the troops.
Senior Lydia Bauer (Lake Zurich, Ill.) scored five straight for Green Bay to pull the team within 10 at 42-32, but LSU used a 12-4 run to build a 54-36 lead with 12:36 to go. The 18-point deficit was the largest Green Bay faced the entire 2012-13 season.
Unfazed at the deficit, Green Bay went on a 9-3 run to pull within 12 at 57-45 with 8:38 to play. Less than a minute later, the visiting team sparked a 14-6 run to pull within four after two triples from Gilbertson and an Eichler three made it 65-61.
LSU answered with a triple of its own and a 3-point play, extending its lead back to double digits with 3:05 to play. Trailing 71-61, the Phoenix used a run of 8-1 to put the score at 72-69 with 47.8 seconds to go.
Forced to foul with 15 seconds to play, Gilbertson fouled out as LSU headed to the line. The Lady Tiger’s do-it-all 6’5 threat in Theresa Plaisance made both of her attempts, giving the home team a 74-69 lead.
“I’ll tell you, Green Bay is one of those teams that you don’t want to play,” LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell said. “They’re one of the toughest teams we’ve played—credit to them for the way they battled back. They could easily stack up with anyone in our conference.”
On the ensuing inbounds play, Lukan went coast-to-coast for the layup, making it a single possession game with a 74-71 deficit. Forced to foul again, however, LSU made one of two at the line to gain a 75-71 lead with just four seconds to play. A last-second heave from junior Sam Zastrow (Algoma, Wis.) wouldn’t fall, sealing the 75-71 defeat.
“Our kids really rallied in the second half and got it down to a one-possession game,” Borseth said. “It didn’t look like we were ever going to get it there, but we got it there. We had opportunities, and overall I’m just very proud.”
Eichler led the way with a game-high 22 points, and in the process became the most veteran player in program history with her 133rd appearance. Ritchie added 16 points, four assists and three steals, while Gilbertson had a career-high 15 points on 3-5 long-range shooting and six rebounds. Bauer rounded out Green Bay’s scorers in double figures with 11 points, finishing at 988 for her standout career. Lukan added five points, while Breannah Ranger (Skokie, Ill.) chipped in two.
The game marked the final appearance of Green Bay’s largest senior class in the 40 years of the program. One of the most decorated classes in team history, the quintet of Ritchie, Bauer, Eichler, Gilbertson and Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.) helped lead the program to an overall record of 122-12 during the standout careers.
“This has meant everything to me—growing up watching the program, watching coach Borseth make the program what it is now,” Ritchie said. “It’s the biggest gift to me to have my family here and I just feel so lucky to be a part of this program for the last four years.”
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