None of that, however, means coach Matt Bollant was happy afterward.
No. 18 Green Bay started its trek toward a Division I-best 14th consecutive regular-season conference championship with an 80-63 victory Thursday night. The Phoenix remains perfect in conference openers since going Division I for the 1987-88 season.
“If this is going to be our identity, you’re not going to be the team that we want to be in March,” Bollant said he told his players. “Our identity is being a tough defensive team and being the toughest dog in the fight and fighting for 40 minutes. Definitely didn’t feel like that was the case today. I felt like we won the basketball game because we made shots and because we were really skilled, but not because we were the tougher team. That was very disappointing.”
With both teams featuring marquee scorers - UIC’s Jasmine Bailey entered the game ranked 12th in the nation with 21.2 points per game while Green Bay’s Julie Wojta was 18th with 20.7 per game—balance was the key. Bailey led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds but had 10 turnovers for the Flames (7-5, 0-1). Wojta, limited to two points in the first half because of foul trouble, finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. She was one of five players in double-figures for the Phoenix.
“At halftime when I saw (Wojta), I was like, `Wow, I forgot about you,’ which is a really nice thing,” Ritchie said. “That means we’re growing as a team. That’s why Green Bay has always been so good in the past. It’s not about one player. It’s about the team and whoever’s open.”
Sarah Eichler picked up the slack with a career-high 19 points, including eight straight early in the second half, and Ritchie had 18.
“(Eichler) definitely had some toughness to her and had a mentality that she was going to get to the rim,” Bollant said.
Green Bay got 3-pointers from Eichler and Ritchie to take a 6-0 lead. Perimeter shooting was the key in the first half. While Green Bay hit 5-of-10 3-pointers, Illinois-Chicago made just 2-of-9. It took the Flames more than 13 minutes to score their first basket from outside the paint. The Flames hung around to trail 36-28 at halftime but the Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-4 run to take charge. Its lead never dipped below 12 the rest of the way.
“I think we were just antsy because it was our first conference game and we’re coming out at home and we knew UIC had four seniors and a junior starting,” Eichler said. “We just knew that they were going to come out ready to play.”
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