GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — After a five-year hiatus, UW-Green Bay women's basketball is back on top of the Horizon League.
The Phoenix defeated Cleveland State 64-49 Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the conference title and lock up the No. 1 seed in the Horizon League Tournament. The two teams came into the night tied atop the standings at 16-2.
The back-and-forth game featured nine lead changes and eight ties, but Green Bay pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring Cleveland State 19-6 in the period.
Junior guard Natalie McNeal led the way with a season-high 16 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. She did most of her damage from the high post, helping the Phoenix open up the floor against Cleveland State's zone defense.
"I like being in the middle (of the floor) - that's my favorite spot to be - so it's not really hard for (Coach Kevin Borseth) to tell me to go there because I'll probably find myself there anyway," McNeal laughed.
"I think we moved the ball really well especially out of the middle and then getting to the corner," she said. "Just looking to get our shots that we know we can hit."
McNeal also called the win a "dream come true."
It was long overdue for the program, one of the top mid-majors in women's college basketball. The win ends a five-year conference championship drought, the longest for the Phoenix since they moved to NCAA Division I before the 1987-88 season.
"Green Bay women's basketball is a culture that's bought in," McNeal said. "Everyone is going to work hard in the offseason and all the games, leading up to moments like this when it counts.
"I can tell you we did feel the pressure a little bit," she added. "But I think just knowing that we worked really hard - everyone individually - to get in this position, we've got a lot of confidence that we can lean back on when the big game comes."
The team has dealt with several significant injuries throughout the season, but longtime head coach Kevin Borseth lauded his team's toughness and desire.
"They're always chirping, they're always talking to one another," Borseth said. "They're always trying to do things that make them better and it's not something that a coaching staff can tell them.
"You either have it in you or you don't," he added. "And I think we've got some good leadership top to bottom and all of them have bought into that so it's pretty fun to be around that."
The Phoenix finish out the regular season against Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday. Tip time is 1:00 p.m. at the Kress Center.
Green Bay will then host a Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal against the conference's lowest-remaining seed on Thursday.