WICHITA, Kan. — It had been so long since Wisconsin-Green Bay had to win a close game, coach Matt Bollant tried to simulate tight late-game situations for the Phoenix in practices leading up to the NCAA tournament.
The Phoenix showed Sunday they haven’t forgotten how to come through in the clutch. Kayla Tetschlag scored 24 points and fifth-seeded Green Bay extended its winning streak to 21 games, beating Arkansas-Little Rock 59-55 in the first round.
Green Bay (33-1) overmatched most of its Horizon League foes and hadn’t won a game by a single-digit margin since Jan. 27 against Butler. Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas-Little Rock (23-8) made the Phoenix sweat this one out — which is exactly what they expected.
“It was a lot of fun,” Tetschlag said. “We live for these kind of games. We haven’t had a lot of them.
“I like the high level of competition. ... I can’t explain it. I don’t know what it is. I get those extra butterflies before the game to get me going.”
Bollant said he always tells his players to “enjoy the fight” and he thought the Phoenix did that.
“It’s too bad we had to play such a good mid-major in the first round,” he said.
Thanks to 24 points from Chastity Reed, the Trojans led midway through the second half and remained within striking distance in the final minutes, never letting Green Bay’s lead grow to more than 10. UALR pulled within 58-55 on a 3-pointer by Taylor Ford with 3 seconds left, but Julie Wojta hit a clinching free throw with 1.9 seconds to go.
“We didn’t give up,” Reed said. “We had a chance. We just didn’t knock down some tough shots.”
Green Bay will play fourth-seeded Michigan State in the second round Tuesday. It’s the second straight season Green Bay has won its tournament opener. The Phoenix are 4-2 all-time in NCAA tournament games played at neutral sites.
The second half turned into a showdown between Reed, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year, and Tetschlag, who shared Horizon League player of the year honors with teammate Celeste Hoewisch.
Reed, after scoring only five points in the first half, rallied UALR after halftime, hitting medium-range jumpers and scoring 10 straight points for the Trojans in one stretch. Tetschlag matched her on the other end, continually catching lob passes inside and scoring.
“I thought Kayla was unbelievable throughout the game,” Bollant said. “When we needed a basket, we need a play made, she was there and has done it time and time again in her career. She has been unbelievable in big games and to see her step up when we had to have her was special.”
UALR’s final lead came with 10:31 left, when Asriel Rolfe hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 37-36. Tetschlag scored a minute later to put Green Bay ahead for good, and the Phoenix led 48-41 after Hoewisch’s 3-pointer with 5:55 to go. The lead swelled to double digits for the first time on a 3-pointer by Sarah Eichler with 4:39 left that made it 51-41.
Reed, a senior, said she felt “like I let my team down and my coach,” but UALR coach Joe Foley wasn’t hearing any of that.
“Green Bay won the game,” Foley said, turning toward Reed and Rolfe. “They didn’t lose it. They fought their butts off.”
UALR’s starting point guard, Shanika Butler, picked up her fourth foul with 17:25 left and sat out for a long stretch before returning and fouling out with 2:04 left. Foley said her presence would have helped the Trojans, particularly on the defensive end.
UALR turned the ball over on its first three possessions — committing two charging fouls — and had trouble penetrating Green Bay’s zone defense the entire first half. Still, the Trojans led 17-10 early.
Then UALR went nearly six minutes without a point and Green Bay slowly caught up. The Phoenix closed the half on a 7-2 spurt, and Wojta’s 3-pointer just before halftime gave Green Bay its largest lead to that point at 28-23.
Arkansas-Little Rock won its first-round game last season as a double-digit seed, stunning Georgia Tech.View more articles in: