GREEN BAY, Wis. – Valparaiso went toe-to-toe with the best team in the Horizon League for a good portion of Wednesday night's game. At the end of the day, however, the Crusaders were just a little bit overmatched.
Julie Wojta scored 17 points and No. 10 Wisconsin-Green Bay pulled away in the second half to beat Valparaiso 77-53 and advance to the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament.
"There was a bit of a lull. We weren't playing with the type of energy that we wanted to coming out but I think we fixed it," Wojta said. "Later in the first half we came alive a little bit more, were flying around, playing better defense, talking more. Overall, we're happy with it and glad to get this win, and we're ready to move on and get ready for Friday."
Wojta, the Horizon player of the year who also won the league's top defensive honor, also notched six steals to break the school's single-season record with 105.
"It's an honor and very cool, especially with the people that have been in this program — very good athletes and good basketball players," Wojta said.
Valparaiso (10-21), which was outscored 137-73 in two regular-season meetings with the Phoenix, trailed 44-35 roughly 7 minutes into the second half before Green Bay (28-1) went on a 15-0 run to put the game away.
"They didn't score much in the half-court defense, they scored in transition off turnovers, and that's the Achilles' heel for us," said Valpo coach Keith Freeman.
The Crusaders kept it close early on, holding Green Bay to just seven points in the first 8 minutes for a 10-7 lead. The Phoenix then went on a 13-0 run to take a 20-10 lead. Valpo closed the gap to three at one point but Green Bay never trailed again.
"That (pressure defense) really takes advantage of our inability where we don't have five passers," Freeman said. "We have one or two passers, so now all of a sudden we're in a position where we have multiple players on the floor having to touch the ball make plays. Now they're in a position where they can create offense from their defense. Our defense in the half-court was very, very good."
Green Bay coach Matt Bollant said he was impressed with Valpo's tenacity, especially considering the Crusaders played only one reserve and all their starters logged over 30 minutes.
"Those kids played four games in a week and they've got six players playing a lot of minutes and I thought those kids really fought," Bollant said. "I told Keith he should be really proud of those players because those kids fought and played with great energy and it really made things tough on us."
Wojta scored 15 points, including her team's last seven of the first half, to help the Phoenix take a 38-25 lead at the break.
"Julie, in the first half, was huge," Bollant said. "When everyone else was not playing great she really carried us in that first half and helped us build a lead."
Sarah Eichler scored 14 points and Adrian Ritchie added 12 for the Phoenix, which will host No. 4 seed Illinois-Chicago in the semifinals on Friday.
Green Bay shot 29 of 56 (51.8 percent) from the field.
Tabitha Gerardot had 19 points and eight rebounds for Valpo. Ashley Varner added 14 points and Gina Lange had 11.