Wisconsin-Green Bay lets 16-point lead dwindle, but hits key free throws to win

AMES, Iowa -- It got a little shaky there at the end, but no matter.

What counted was that Wisconsin-Green Bay pulled out a rare victory in the NCAA women's tournament and the Phoenix will take it, regardless of how it came about.

Celeste Hoewisch scored 23 points and 12th-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay let most of a 16-point lead slip away before holding on to beat Virginia 69-67 Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament.

After it appeared the Phoenix (28-4) would win in a rout, fifth-seeded Virginia forced a slew of turnovers by turning up its defensive pressure and cut the lead to 64-63 on Ariana Moorer's two free throws with 32.7 seconds left.

But Wisconsin-Green Bay steadied just enough to make five free throws in the closing seconds to move into the second round.

"We did lose our cool a little bit," Wisconsin-Green Bay's Adrian Ritchie said. "But I felt confident. I looked into my teammates' eyes and just knew this game was ours. And we felt it. I was proud that we pulled it out."

It was a disappointing ending for Virginia's Monica Wright, the ACC player of the year and the school's career scoring leader. Wright did her part with 34 points and nine rebounds, but didn't get the help she needed from her teammates.

Wisconsin-Green Bay finished with almost twice as many turnovers (30) as field goals (16) and didn't make a basket after Julie Wojta hit a jumper to put the Phoenix up 56-41 with 12:17 left.

But they survived by making 34 of 40 free throws and playing just enough defense to keep Virginia from seizing the lead.

"You look at the difference of the game, probably the free throw line is a huge difference," Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Matt Bollant said. "One of the things we say all the time, the most aggressive team gets to line.

"And I felt like we did that for probably about 35 minutes. They definitely were the most aggressive team down the stretch, but then we still found a way to pull it out."

It was just the third victory in 11 NCAA tournament appearances for Wisconsin-Green Bay, and the Phoenix had to sweat out the the final few tenths of a second to get it.

After Wright scored what turned out to be the final basket of her stellar career to draw Virginia to 69-67, the Cavaliers fouled immediately and sent Sarah Eichler to the line with 0.4 on the clock.

Eichler missed the first shot, so Bollant ordered her to intentionally miss the second. She did and the buzzer sounded, but the officials conferred and awarded Virginia a timeout with 0.2 seconds, meaning all the Cavaliers could do after inbounding the ball was tip it.

Paulisha Kellum fired a baseball-type pass into the forecourt and Virginia managed to tip it toward the basket, but the ball bounced away and the game ended with Virginia coach Debbie Ryan screaming for a foul.

"I thought there was lot of contact, but [the officials] didn't say anything," Ryan said. "There was contact before she even touched the ball."

Ritchie and Kayla Tetschlag each added 14 points for Wisconsin-Green Bay, the first Horizon League team to earn an at-large berth in the tournament, and Wojta scored 10. The Phoenix were the scrappier team most of the way and outrebounded their taller opponent 43-35.

Virginia came up with 22 steals, but committed 19 turnovers of its own and shot just 37.3 percent.

Wright broke Dawn Staley's career scoring record at Virginia and finished with 2,540 points.

"You could see that she was not going to die, she was not going to go down. She put everything she had into it," Ryan said of Wright. "And I'm just not sure that everybody else was really on the same page until the last 11 minutes, and once we got on the same page I don't want to say it was too late, but it was almost too late."

Whitny Edwards scored nine points for the Cavaliers and Kellum had eight. Virginia, which had a string of four straight first-round victories broken, finished 15 for 23 on free throws.

Wisconsin-Green Bay struggled early against Virginia's size and strength inside and rarely got good looks at the basket.

Trailing 20-11 midway through the first half, the Phoenix switched to an aggressive, trapping 2/3 zone, got their offense going in a 17-3 run and led the rest of the way.

Wisconsin-Green Bay led 34-27 at halftime, then made five of its first six shots in the second half to go up 49-33. As it turned out, the Phoenix would need all of that 16-point cushion.