GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - Visiting Valparaiso (10-21) gave No. 10/10 Green Bay (28-1) everything it could handle early in both halves of Wednesday's Horizon League Championship quarterfinal game at the Kress Events Center, but the top-seeded Phoenix turned up its defense with a pair of dominant runs. The second run, a 15-0 spurt midway through the second half, helped Green Bay cruise to a 77-53 win.
With the win, Green Bay cemented the fact that the remainder of the Horizon League Championships, beginning with Friday's quarterfinals, will take place at the Kress Center. The Phoenix will host fourth-seeded UIC at 7:30 p.m. in Friday's second semifinal, which will be preceded at 5 p.m. by second-seeded Detroit playing third-seeded Wright State. Sunday's championship game pitting Friday's winners will tip at 12 p.m.
Eight minutes into Wednesday's contest, things were not going as planned for Green Bay. Valparaiso had taken a 10-7 lead and the Phoenix had made just 3-of-10 shots from the field.
The bank then opened up for senior Hannah Quilling (Eau Claire, Wis.), and the game temporarily followed suit. Quilling banked in a three-pointer to tie the game, sparking a 13-0 run which fellow senior Julie Wojta (Mishicot, Wis.) capped with a triple of her own to make it 20-10. Green Bay's defense forced five turnovers during the run which spanned just over five minutes.
After Wojta then went to the bench with her second foul, Valpo scored the next six points to close the margin to 20-17. The Horizon League Player of the Year returned to spark an 8-0 run with a pair of steals that broke Green Bay's single-season steals record. Wojta scored the last seven Phoenix points of the half to put the hosts in front 38-25 at the break.
Also the Defensive Player of the Year in the Horizon League, Wojta scored 15 of her team-high 17 points in the opening half, when she also had all five of her rebounds and five of her six steals. Wojta now has 105 steals on the year and 265 in her career.
"Julie in the first half was huge when everyone else was not playing great, she really carried us and helped us to build a lead," said head coach Matt Bollant.
Valpo's 10-6 start to the second half closed the Phoenix lead back to single digits (44-35) with 13:34 to play. Again dominant defense, this time led by Quilling, sparked a Green Bay run. Quilling found Wojta for a lob before immediately stealing the basketball in the backcourt and finding freshman Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) for an open layup.
Those two Quilling plays jumpstarted a 15-0 run in which the Phoenix forced six Crusader turnovers and held the visitors to zero field goal attempts. The spurt lasted just over three minutes and turned the nine-point lead into a 59-35 margin with 10:25 left. For the game, Green Bay forced 26 turnovers and held an insurmountable 45-5 edge in points off turnovers.
Green Bay's depth showed over the past 10 minutes as the team kept the lead above 20. Junior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) totaled 14 points, five rebounds and three steals while junior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) added 12 points and four steals.
Junior Jenny Gilbertson (Wabasha, Minn.), who had 10 points in 15 minutes, helped the Phoenix to a 23-2 advantage in bench points.
"[Jenny] did one of the best jobs of anybody today of playing with enthusiasm," said Bollant. "Basketball is supposed to fun and you saw a smile on her face and that is the way she played. She is a very good shooter with a great stroke. It was great to see her step up and do it when we needed her."