GREEN BAY, Wis. — If you look at the regular-season schedules for both the LSU and Green Bay women’s basketball teams, two identical teams pop up: Missouri and Wichita State.
LSU and Green Bay faced the Lady Tigers and Shockers, but the results were strikingly different.
LSU was pushed to overtime in order to beat Missouri 78-74 in Columbia, Mo., while Green Bay downed Missouri 55-33 in Cancun, Mexico. Against Wichita State, LSU won a home game 72-70 with Green Bay pounding Wichita State 63-42 in Wichita, Kan.
The Lady Tigers combined to beat their two like opponents by six points. The Phoenix dominated by 43 points.
With LSU and Green Bay squaring off Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Phoenix players aren’t concerned about the Lady Tigers’ close contests against two opponents.
“Maybe those numbers tell us we had a better matchup, but it’s still all about that day and the energy and your schedule and how many games you had before that and things like that,” senior guard Adrian Ritchie said. “We’re not going to look too much into it. We’re ready to look at how our matchup is against LSU, really, because that’s what’s most important.”
Kevin Borseth, in the first year of his second stint as Green Bay head coach, agrees that it’s all about matchups.
“Kind of funny: You think you beat one team and the other team lost to them and that you should beat that team,” Borseth said. “But it doesn’t go that way.”
Green Bay enters the NCAA tournament on quite a roll. After losing to Central Michigan on Dec. 5, the Phoenix has won its past 24 games, most recently the Horizon League tournament championship on Sunday.
The Phoenix head into the tournament boasting the second-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing a stingy 48.1 points per game. The Phoenix has held 19 of its 31 opponents to fewer than 50 points. In eight games, the opposition has tallied less than 40 points.
Defense has been a staple for the program for the last decade-plus, and the Phoenix players really enjoy smothering their opponents.
“It’s something you can fall back on. I think any team could agree with that, any coach,” Ritchie said. “It’s something this program has always been able to pride themselves on. ... When you can build a program on defense, it’s hard to fail, especially at this point in the season.”
Because Green Bay has a core group of five seniors — four of them are starters — who have played large roles on the team for four years, it aids in their defensive cohesiveness since they know each other’s tendencies.
“I know Adrian’s probably going to sneak out to go steal that skip (pass), so I’m just going to stay and help this lob for an extra half-second,” senior forward Sarah Eichler said.
The Phoenix defense will have its hands full trying to stop LSU junior Theresa Plaisance. The 6-foot-5 junior is a force on the inside and outside, averaging 17.4 points per game and 8.3 rebounds.
Green Bay, whose tallest starter is the 6-3 Stephanie Sension, hasn’t faced a 6-5 player this season, so preparing for Plaisance will be a big challenge this week.
Eichler said she believes her team can shut down Plaisance and make the other Tigers players beat them. In Green Bay’s defensive system, it fronts the post and makes it tougher for teams to get the ball inside.
“I think we have the ability to do it; I think we have the personnel to do it,” Eichler said. “It’s just a matter of will at this point. We just have to do it.”
Offensively, Green Bay boasts a lot of weapons, averaging 67.8 points per game. Four players average in double figures, led by Ritchie’s 14.2 points per outing. She has hit 70 of 184 3-point attempts this season. Eichler averages 11.5 points per game, followed by Sension (10.1), and Lydia Bauer (10.0).
The Phoenix shoot 45 percent from the field, ninth-best in Division I.
“We are just a motion offense,” Eichler said. “It’s all about reads, it’s all about how they’re going to guard us. Who’s open, whether it’s a drive and kick or it’s a throw it inside and kick or getting inside-outside shots. It will be interesting, but we definitely do have to perform in the half-court offense.”
For the second straight NCAA tournament, Green Bay will have to face its opening-round opponent on its home court. Last season, the No. 10-seeded Phoenix ousted No. 7 Iowa St. 71-57 in Ames, Iowa.
Playing LSU on its home floor should be quite the test.
“It’s nice, because we’ve been here before,” Eichler said. “We’re veterans, we’ve been here. We’ve played on someone’s home floor, where every person in that stands is really cheering against you.”
However, Green Bay is beaming with confidence it can pull of another tournament upset.
Said Ritchie: “It’s 40 minutes and all you need is one chance in the NCAA tournament, and that’s what it’s all about. Anything can happen in March and I’m really looking forward to making something happen.”