A late 15-1 run was not nearly enough for Valparaiso on Wednesday evening as the Crusaders dropped their Horizon League Championship quarterfinal game to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 67-60 to end the Brown and Gold’s season in Milwaukee, Wis.
Trailing by 18 with 4:19 to play, Valpo tried to make a comeback for the ages. Three-pointers by Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) and Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) sandwiched an Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) lay-in and cut the deficit to 10 within just over a minute.
Another triple by Ott and a lay-in by Kulaga helped get the deficit to 61-57 with 41 seconds to play. The Panthers split free throws on back-to-back occasions, and Valpo had chances to cut the lead further, but a pair of missed shots inside late hindered a further comeback attempt and the Crusaders were forced to foul.
Valparaiso started the game off slow offensively, making just two of its first 14 shots from the floor. It took the Crusaders nearly five minutes to break the scoreboard, when Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) hit a three pointer.
Milwaukee raced out to a 15-6 lead midway through the half before the Crusaders got on track. A pair of three-pointers by Leah Hochstetler (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) sparked a 10-0 Valpo run to put the Brown and Gold on top 16-15 at the 8:21 mark.
The Panthers responded with six straight points of their own to retake the lead. Valpo cut its deficit to two twice after the run, but went into intermission down 30-24. Valpo shot just 31% from the field in the opening half while Milwaukee connected on nearly 41% of its shots from the floor.
Milwaukee pushed the lead to 10 just over a minute out of the locker room. Back-to-back baskets by Litka and Kelly Peller (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.) cut the Crusader deficit to five, 34-29, at the 16 minute mark.
A 12-3 Panther run pushed the hosts advantage to 14 as Horizon League Player of the Year Traci Edwards scored seven points, including a three-pointer to make it 46-32 at the 12:48 mark. Another 9-0 run pushed the advantage to 18 before the Crusaders began their comeback attempt.
“I think if we moved the ball we could have gotten the ball to where we wanted it tonight,” head coach Keith Freeman said afterwards. “In the second half, our problem was on the defensive end.”
Ott led the Crusaders with 15 points, all in the second half, and five rebounds while Litka added 12 points, nine of which came in the first half. Kulaga added 10 more points and had a game-high nine assists, just missing her double-double.
Edwards led Milwaukee with 26 points and 11 rebounds while Aubri Rote added 10 points for the Panthers.
Milwaukee, the tournament’s third seed, shot 45.1% from the field for the game, including 42% from beyond the arc. Valpo, the number six seed, shot just 38% from the floor, but made 14-of-30 three-pointers to keep within reach. The 14 triples are the third most for the Crusaders in a single game in school history.
The Panthers held a 42-31 advantage on the glass, and used 11 offensive boards for 12 second chance points.
Valparaiso sees its season come to an end with a 14-16 record while Milwaukee (17-13) advances to the semifinals to face Wright State.