GREEN BAY, Wis. — Loyola of Chicago picked a bad afternoon to have a cold-shooting game.
The Ramblers hit just 29.8 percent of their shots while having to deal with a stifling Green Bay defense as the 20th-ranked Phoenix won the Horizon League tournament championship 54-38 on Sunday.
Loyola (17-15) was down 17 points at halftime, but had a shot to get back into the game as Green Bay was just 2 for 23 to start the second half. However, the Ramblers could only cut the deficit to 38-27, and couldn't get any closer.
"Give our kids a lot of credit for playing some great defense in the second half and I thought we held them to a pretty good point total, but their defense is just so awesome," Loyola coach Eric Simpson said. "We had a really hard time scoring, getting the ball to our best player, Simone Law, down on the block."
Law still had a productive game, registering her ninth double-double of the season with 12 points and tying a career high with 14 rebounds. Monica Albano added nine points and seven rebounds for the Ramblers.
The Phoenix (29-2) – winners of 24 straight games – beat Loyola twice during the regular season, including a 65-62 win in early February.
Green Bay's defense held Loyola to just 7-of-22 shooting in the second half. But Green Bay was just 8 of 34.
"We didn't get into the lane at all. You've got a 17-point and our key thing for that game is, `Don't turn it over,'" Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth said. "That was our No. 1 thing on that board. We felt the game was going to be determined by points off turnovers."
It certainly was. Green Bay outscored Loyola 12-1 on points off turnovers.
It's Green Bay's third league tournament title in a row and the fifth straight year the team will compete in the NCAA tournament after receiving an automatic bid. It was Loyola's first trip to the Horizon League tournament championship game.
Green Bay made two of its first nine shots, but hit the next five to turn a 4-4 game into a 15-6 cushion. Adrian Ritchie fueled the run with seven points. The Phoenix continued its offensive prowess as Sarah Eichler, who scored a game-high 16 points, and Ritchie drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 21-8.
"We got some turnovers and we just ran on them a little bit," said Ritchie, who was named the tournament MVP after scoring 15 points. "I sat early with a foul, so I wasn't even in rhythm, really, I just tried to get back in. We all try to do little things. Little things lead to big things."
Another 3-pointer by Eichler gave Green Bay a commanding 28-15 lead before taking its biggest lead at 34-17 into halftime. The Phoenix's biggest lead in the second half was 17 after weathering the storm of its shooting drought.
Green Bay shot just 36 percent for the game. Loyola made 30 percent overall and was just 2 of 18 on 3-pointers.
For Loyola to have a chance to beat Green Bay, Simpson knew his team had to play its best and the Phoenix had to have a letdown.
"They did not shoot the ball as well as they are capable of and certainly that was to our advantage, but the other thing they do is, I think, they're second in the nation in terms of giving up points. You saw why tonight," Simpson said.