Phoenix extend winning streak to 25 games overall

WICHITA, Kan. -- All season long, as Wisconsin-Green Bay posted lopsided wins over overmatched foes, the question came.

Just how good are the Phoenix?

The quick answer: They're good enough to make the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time. Adrian Ritchie scored 20 points off the bench, Julie Wojta added 18 and the Horizon League champion extended its winning streak to 25 games, beating fourth-seeded Michigan State 65-56 on Tuesday night.

Green Bay (34-1) is headed to Dallas for a regional semifinal against No. 1 Baylor and star center Brittney Griner. Can the Phoenix hang with the Big 12 champion? Well, Green Bay went 4-0 this season against Big Ten foes, including a wire-to-wire win against Michigan State (27-6), that conference's outright champion.

"It's the best team I've ever been around," Green Bay coach Matt Bollant said. "I felt like the right thing happened for us today."

There have been doubters. Despite its glossy record, Green Bay received only a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament because of its strength of schedule -- the Phoenix played only four foes ranked in the top 100 of the RPI during the regular season.

But the Phoenix have shown in two NCAA tournament games that they can win close contests, beating Arkansas-Little Rock by four points in the first round before hanging on after building a 14-point lead against Michigan State. Before and during the game, those in Green Bay's fan section chanted, "Yes we can." After the game, that chant turned to, "Yes we did."

"I felt coming in that this team could make this happen," Bollant said. "We're every bit as good as Michigan State and we proved that today."

Green Bay led by 12 at halftime before the Spartans rallied to twice pull within one point. Kalisha Keane's basket with 11:25 left got Michigan State within 41-40, but the Spartans weren't able to take the lead.

The Phoenix led 48-46 with seven minutes left and then scored seven straight points, a run that included a 3-pointer and another basket by Celeste Hoewisch, the Horizon League's co-player of the year with teammate Kayla Tetschlag.

Green Bay extended its lead to 60-50 on a free throw by Sarah Eichler with 1:13 left and held on despite shaky late free-throw shooting, going 5-of-10 from the line in the final 55.3 seconds. Michigan State got within 60-56 on a 3-pointer by Keane with 42.7 seconds left but had two subsequent turnovers.

Hoewisch said the Phoenix drew on lessons learned from a 60-56 loss to Iowa State in the second round of last year's tournament.

"Our maturity has grown leaps and bounds since last year," Hoewisch said. "This team has had a will to win that is contagious."

The Phoenix received offensive contributions from all over the floor. Ritchie finished 4-of-5 from 3-point range, Hoewisch scored 14 points and Tetschlag added 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Green Bay's quickness -- the Phoenix recorded 13 steals -- helped overcome a 40-25 rebounding deficit against the taller Spartans.

"We outrebounded them pretty good but we didn't always capitalize on the offensive rebounds," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.

Keane led the Spartans with 20 points but also committed seven turnovers. Two other Spartans, Lykendra Johnson and Brittney Thomas, had five turnovers each.

Green Bay held Michigan State without a field goal for almost 9 1/2 minutes in the first half and led 35-23 at halftime. The Spartans shot 33.3 percent from the field and had 15 turnovers in posting their third lowest-scoring half of the season.

"They had us really rattled in the first half," Merchant said. "We were out of the flow and they had great intensity defensively and we didn't match it on the offensive end."

The Phoenix had four steals in the first 4½ minutes and seven for the half, continually stepping in front of Michigan State passes. Michigan State played decent defense -- recording five steals in the half -- but more often, Green Bay's players delivered crisp passes that resulted in easy baskets.

"I don't think it was what they were doing but how hard they were doing it," Thomas said. "It caught us off guard ... and we dug ourselves a hole we couldn't get out of."

Green Bay led 19-14 with 10:46 left in the half and went five minutes without scoring but held Michigan State to three free throws during that stretch, which ended with Ritchie hitting consecutive 3-pointers in a 26-second span.

The latter shot came directly in front of Merchant, who immediately called a timeout.

The Phoenix led by as many as 14 before two late 3-pointers by Michigan State's Taylor Alton ended the Spartans' long dry stretch from the field.

A 13-2 run by Michigan State early in the second half, capped by a steal and layup by Keane, pulled the Spartans within 39-38 with 12:30 left. Wojta stopped the run with a basket and Ritchie followed with a 3-pointer after another basket by Keane had cut the gap to one point.

Thomas scored 10 points for Michigan State while Cetera Washington had nine points and 10 rebounds and Johnson added eight points and 11 rebounds.