- By Jay Morrison Staff Writer
The heavily favored Green Bay women’s team looked a little sluggish in advancing to its eighth consecutive Horizon League championship game, but once the Phoenix got there, the throttle opened and Wright State couldn’t do anything about it.
Tournament MVP Allie LeClaire scored 24 points, and Jessica Lindstrom had 12 points and 14 rebounds as Green Bay rolled past Wright State and into the NCAA tournament with a 62-44 triumph Tuesday afternoon at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit.
“This one obviously hurts,” Raiders coach Katrina Merriweather said. “When you have a team that is committed to playing as hard as they can, doing the best they can for each other, you always want to end on a better note than this. What probably hurts more than anything is how disappointed (the players) are that there wasn’t a better showing.”
The Phoenix, ranked 22 nationally, improved to 29-3 this year and 62-4 all-time against Wright State while winning their fourth consecutive HL tournament title, eighth in nine years and 16th overall.
No other current Horizon League members has more than two.
Wright State (23-10) posted season lows in points, shooting percentage (27.8) and 3-point percentage (7.7) against a Green Bay defense that Merriweather called the best in the country.
“That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact,” she said.
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The Phoenix focused on HL Player of the Year Chelsea Welch, holding her to 2 of 15 shooting.
“Shots just really weren’t falling,” said Welch, who was 9 of 11 from the free throw line to finish with 13 points. “I think we got a lot of decent looks actually. There are just days they don’t fall.”
Senior Lexi Smith led the Raiders with 14 points. Mackenzie Taylor only scored five points but earned a spot on the all-tournament team along with Welch and the Green Bay trio of LeClaire, Lindstrom and Jen Wellnitz.
The Raiders went down 10 points in the first quarter and trailed by double digits for the final 27 minutes.
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But they trimmed a 21-point deficit to 11 late in the third quarter when Nia Sumpter got a steal, layup and free throw. WSU forced a turnover after that and had the ball with a chance to slice the deficit to single digits. But the Raiders missed their next six shots, and Green Bay used a 10-0 run to pull away for good.
With a fifth consecutive 20-win season and an RPI ranking of 86, Merriweather said she thinks her team deserves a fourth consecutive invitation to the WNIT and expects to receive one.
“Continuing to play is always going to be beneficial,” Merriweather said. “Plus Lexi and Chelsea do deserve the opportunity to continue their season.”