- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: Nancy Lieberman is breaking down the best first-round game in each regional. Here, the ESPN analyst examines the Fresno Regional's most intriguing matchup.
This is being touted as the year of the mid-majors, and Wisconsin-Green Bay is one of those teams a lot of fans got behind this season.
And why not? Kevin Borseth's a good coach who always has his Phoenix playing at a high level. They are very smart on the perimeter, very fundamental, know when and where to set screens and just have very good technique.
UW-Green Bay, which is riding a 25-game winning streak into its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 seasons, led the Horizon League in scoring this season with 76.8 points per game. The Phoenix shoot 48 percent from the field and really rely on playing up-tempo and beating the opponent down the floor. The posts aren't afraid to drift away from the basket. Senior post Nicole Soulis, in particular, has a nice outside touch and leads the Phoenix in scoring, rebounding and blocks.
The Phoenix also can hit the 3-pointer (39 percent). They nailed 15 treys in their Horizon League tournament matchup with Butler. Natalie Berglin has hit a team-high 63 3-pointers. Rachel Porath, one of three players with at least 45 treys on the season, leads the way from downtown with 45 percent accuracy.
Only two UW-Green Bay players are in double figures, but that's misleading; all five score at least 9.0 per game. The Phoenix are starter heavy, though the top three reserves off the bench combine for 17 points per game.
The big question in this matchup is how the UW-Green Bay offense does against one of the nation's top defenses. New Mexico ranks 17th in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 54.8 points per game -- about 20 fewer than the Phoenix hit a night.
Coach Don Flanagan and his defense-first philosophy has paid off big time for the Lobos in the past, and they have more tournament savvy and experience playing in front of big crowds.
The Mountain West tournament champs, who are playing in their sixth straight tournament, have a very productive inside-out combo in Julie Briody and Dionne Marsh. They combine to average 30 points and 12 rebounds in a very experienced lineup.
One of New Mexico's best qualities is its ability to take care of the ball, committing only 14.7 turnovers per game. That will help limit UW-Green Bay's chances to run, as will the Lobos' excellent rebounding. They go eight players deep, with three players in double figures for balanced scoring.
One thing that can hurt New Mexico, however, is when opponents play small ball against the Lobos. While they're efficient with the ball, they're not fast.
Who wins: UW-Green Bay hasn't lost since Nov. 29, but I'm picking the Lobos. I'm a big believer in defense, and come tournament time, when you're playing an unfamiliar opponent, defense can be the difference. Expect the Lobos to take away UW-Green Bay's strengths and guard the 3-point line and try to make the Phoenix into a half-court team.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
The most intriguing first-round matchup in Fresno? It's the eighth-seeded New Mexico Lobos against No. 9 seed UW-Green Bay.