Page 2 From The Tournament: Drama Rules The Quarterfinals
The quarterfinals of the 2016 Big West Women's Basketball Tournament had a bit of everything. Buzzer beaters, career-highs, redemption and plenty of drama as No. 3 Long Beach State and No. 4 UC Davis punched tickets to the semifinals.
A year ago, Long Beach State junior guard Raven Benton was forced to watch the postseason from the sidelines with a knee injury. Wednesday at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center, she watched her jump shot fall into the basket with only six tenths of a second left to break a 52-52 tie and send the third-seeded 49ers to the semifinal round of the Big West Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament.
Benton’s decisive shot gave The Beach a 54-52 win, helping the 49ers (24-7) advance to the semis for the first time since 2012, when they lost in the championship game. They will face No. 2 Hawaii on Friday at Honda Center.
“I felt that it was good,” Benton said. “I tried to get the ball, I saw my teammate stuck and the clock was running down and shot it.”
Jewelyn Sawyer was the facilitator on the play, finding Benton (11 points, four rebounds) on the wing. Just seconds before that, it was the other way around when Benton created a play for Sawyer.
With 31 seconds left and the game knotted at 50, Sawyer worked inside from the baseline and dropped in a layup from high off the backboard to put The Beach ahead. But Lisa Marie Sanchez then hit two free throws 12 seconds later, tying the game up once again.
The entire fourth quarter of Wednesday’s second-round game went much like that. Cal Poly jumped out to a big lead in the first quarter but saw it erased as the Long Beach State press forced the Mustangs to turn the ball over and give up a 17-5 third quarter run.
“The toll of constantly facing pressure, it only takes two posessions and the lead is gone,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I can’t get a sub out there quick enough when they turn up the heat and we’re heading uphill. I had to burn two timeouts in that run, which I hated, because we didn’t have anything at the end. So that was costly for us.”
A day after setting a school record for the fewest turnovers in the game, sloppy mistakes proved to be the downfall for Cal Poly (15-16).
“When we tend to make mistakes, we tend to spin,” Cal Poly forward Hannah Gilbert said. “We get overanxious and overexcited. I think we started playing not to lose and not playing to win. We beat ourselves. Our mistakes were ones that we made with or without their influence. We turned the ball over, passed to someone who wasn’t open and just little things like that.”
Long Beach’s press was ineffective for the most part early in the game. Cal Poly jumped out to an 18-11 lead in the first quarter led by the Leaupepe sisters. Dynn effectively worked her way through The Beach’s 2-3 zone into the post and Lynn battled on the glass.
But neither of them did much after big first halves. Dynn Leaupepe was held to three points in the second half. Lynn Leaupepe was impactful on the defensive end but scored only six points in the game on 2-for-11 shooting.
“I think our defensive presence in the full court kept them from having such a long possession in the half court,” Long Beach State head coach Jody Wynn said. “Our intensity from our press really ignited us offensively and gave us a little bit more energy to defend the last 10 seconds or 15 seconds in the half court.”
Anna Kim led Long Beach with 17 points and six rebounds while Cal Poly’s Beth Balbierz led al scorers with 17 points. It was her 118th - and final - game as a Mustang.
With Balbierz too emotional up to sum up her career, Gilbert did it for her.
“She’s a heck of a player,” her teammate said. “She has a presence on the court she can communicate better than anybody else and she hustles. I would trust her with my life on defense. They would not score on her, and I’m going to miss it.”
BERTSCH'S BIG DAY
No. 4 UC Davis freshman forward Morgan Bertsch got into the Aggie record books in a 71-67 quarterfinal win against 5-seed UC Santa Barbara in the Big West Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament on Wednesday at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center.
But for the Gauchos, there was more gained than lost.
Berstch poured in 26 points, a new career-high and tying the most scored in a Big West Women’s Tournament game by a UCD player. She tied her career-best mark with 11 made field goals and also grabbed eight rebounds in her first-ever postseason game.
“Coming into this game, I was just going to give whatever my team needed from me tonight,” Bertsch said. “We knew that they were going to come out and pressure the ball. Our goal was to get it inside. If they were going to double or go hard help, we were going to look to foul and look to get some threes, play an inside-out game. They didn’t double too much so we were able to exploit the inside.”
Bertsch was able to get most of her points by getting ahead in transition as the Aggies pushed the pace. UC Davis opened up to a 12-point lead at the end of first quarter but the Gauchos climbed back in with a run in the second quarter.
Santa Barbara cut the lead down to just one point with a three-pointer by Coco Miller at 7:58 in the second and even after Bertsch keyed a nine-point run that put the Aggies up 46-36 with 4:08 left the Gauchos closed the gap once again. By the end of the quarter, the UC Davis lead was down to one.
Neither team had control of the game in the third quarter. Finally in the fourth, the Aggies went on 10-3 run to close the game. But the Gauchos still never stopped trying to defend and get the ball back, which was a vast improvement from where earlier in the season when they might have been satisfied with less.
“I think the best part about all of this is how disappointed we are,” UC Santa Barbara coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We kind of went through (a phase) where we were afraid that being close was good enough. Hanging in there and losing by six it was, ‘Hey, we used to lose by 30. We’re hanging in there.’ We talked about that and we settled for that. I’m not saying they admitted that, but they didn’t deny it.”
In her first year in Santa Barbara, Henrickson took a team that won just two games last season and pushed them to the brink of the semifinals in the postseason. More than just basketball, the Gauchos (12-20) learned what it took to win again.
“We learned that when it gets tough, we need to answer,” Santa Barbara sophomore guard Makala Roper said. “Coach Bonnie tells us we need to answer back to adversity. We need to trust in our teammates to work together and get over the hump.”
The Aggies (18-12) move to Honda Center to face top-seeded UC Riverside on Friday. It’s the second time UC Davis has advanced to the semifinals since winning the championship in 2011.
“I’m really excited,” UC Davis forward Celia Marfone said. “We got there last year and we fell a little short. This year, we’re even more excited.”
Page 2 from the Tournament: The Central Coast Rules Round One
Page 2 from the Tournament: Women's Preview