BATON ROUGE, La. – Unaccustomed to losing at all, never mind being down by 18, Sarah Eichler and the Green Bay Phoenix were resolved not to let their 24-game winning streak end without a desperate come-back attempt.
They nearly pulled it off.
Eichler, a front-court player with range, hit all four of her 3-pointers in the second half to finish with 22 points, and the Phoenix got as close as three points in the final minute before finally succumbing to LSU, 75-71 Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"We fought as hard as we could," Eichler said. "You go down 18 and at that moment you just have to band together and fight and we definitely did that and made it a close game but we just couldn't pull it out at the end."
Danielle Ballard and Theresa Plaisance capped 16-point performances by hitting clutch free throws in the final 15 seconds for LSU (21-11), which has won eight of its last nine and to earn a second-round rematch on Tuesday night with Penn State, which won last year's meeting in Baton Rouge.
Adrienne Webb added 15 points and Bianca Lutley 13 for sixth-seeded LSU (21-11), which saw its lead dwindle to three in the final minute before surviving to meet Penn State on Tuesday night in a rematch of the second-round meeting that the Lady Lions won in Baton Rouge a year ago.
"When we got our lead I literally thought, 'This is too soon, because this isn't us," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "We're not that team that has blown anybody out.
"But if it did get to late-game, I saw a team that knew how to play down the stretch," she added. "It seemed to me that they had the composure, they had the confidence, to really finish off this game against an opponent that was bringing everything at them."
Adrian Ritchie scored 16 points for No. 11 seed Green Bay (29-3), the Horizon League champion, which was bounced from the tournament in the first round for the first time since losing to LSU in Baton Rouge in 2009.
"It's really hard to go out like this," said a tearful Adrian Ritchie, who fouled out with 3:05 left. "We won every single first-round (game) of our career so to go out like this is a little bit bitter-sweet."
Jenny Gilbertson added 15 points and Lydia Bauer 11 points for Green Bay.
Known for its 3-point shooting, Green Bay hit 12 of 28, with Gilbertson and Bauer hitting three apiece.
But LSU was more efficient from deep, attempting 14 3s and hitting nine, including one which Plaisance hit off the glass.
Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth said his defensive game plan was to force LSU to from 3-point range, where the Lady Tigers had shot 27.8 percent all season, and it simply backfired.
"They turned out to be pretty good 3-point shooters for not having shot well all year long," Borseth said of LSU. "They made shots, to their credit. They had to make them and they did."
Both teams shot 49 percent and had 29 rebounds each in what turned out to be an evenly matched game, even though it didn't look that way throughout.
Webb hit three 3s and another jumper early in the second half, sparking an 18-5 run that put LSU ahead by 17 points at 49-32.
LSU led by as many as 18 when Plaisance followed her banked 3 with a putback to make it 54-36 with a 12:38 to go.
The Phoenix made a game of it by pressing defensively and hitting 3s in bunches.
Ritchie ignited the comeback when she scored as she was fouled.
"We tried to rally as much as we could," Ritchie said. "We fought as hard as we could because that's who we are."
Then Ritchie, Gilbertson and Eichler hit consecutive 3s to cap a 12-2 run which cut it to 65-61 with 5:06 to go.
Lutley responded with a clutch 3 and added another three-point play on a driving layup as she was fouled.
Still, Green Bay got as close as 72-69 after Megan Lukan's 3 with 49 seconds left.
A critical offensive rebound by Ballard extended a late LSU possession that ended with Plaisance's free throws after Green Bay fouled her intentionally, but Lukan once against made it a three-point game with 9 seconds left.
LSU then was able to get the ball to Ballard, who made a free throw to virtually seal it.