Page 2 From The Tournament: Aggies Buck Expectation, Bombs + Boards = 'Bows Win
One team thwarted perfection. The other flipped the script on the gameplan. In all it added up to a matchup between No. 4 UC Davis and No. 2 Hawai'i at 3 p.m. live on FOX Sports Prime Ticket for the Big West Women's Basketball Tournament title Saturday afternoon at Honda Center.
AGGIES BREAK PERFECTION
The top team in the Big West Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament sure didn’t feel like they were on top this week.
Monday, the UC Riverside women’s basketball showed up to the gym to practice, but one by one, the dominoes all started to fall. UCR players had fevers, with their temperatures reaching at least 100 degrees. One had an ankle so swollen she could barely walk. Another showed up chewing gum and lost a filling. An assistant coach had to take her to the dentist.
Head coach John Margaritis decided not to practice, after all.
Perhaps they could have practiced, but it would have been pointless. The Highlanders have been so devastated by injuries this season, they only have six healthy, eligible players. Yet despite that, they still went undefeated in Big West play, rolling to a perfect 16-0.
Perfect, at least until Friday at Honda Center, in the semifinal round of the conference tournament.
No. 4 UC Davis pulled off a stunning upset by using a 21-7 fourth-quarter run for an 81-72 win. They outrebounded the Highlanders 46-21 and overwhelmed them with their depth.
Finally, someone wore out the seemingly tireless Highlanders.
“They’ve been playing this way all year,” Aggies head coach Jennifer Gross said. “You think you can take advantage of them because of their lack of depth but it’s really hard to do.”
Davis brought a balanced attack that shot 52.8 percent from the field. UC Riverside, as it has done all season, relied on two-time Big West Player of the Year Brittany Crain. The senior guard scored 26 points in the first half alone and was a nearly unstoppable force until the fourth quarter.
“We were thinking, ‘Could she go for 24 again in the second half?’ Yes she could but we’re going to hope that she doesn’t,” Gross said. “She hasn’t scored less than 30 in two months. We talked about desensitizing ourselves from that.”
A pair of sophomoes in Rachel Nagel and Pele Gianotti were tasked with guarding Crain down the stretch. They challenged her enough to hold her to just five points in the decisive fourth quarter.
She finished the final game of her college career with 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting.
“If you got to know her you would even like her even more. She’s a wonderful young lady,” UC Riverside head coach John Margaritis said. “I wish that a couple of our other student-athletes could have had a better game to help her out.”
The margin for error was just too thin for the Highlanders. Foul trouble came early and often, preventing the Highlanders from being able to use any sort of physical play.
“Since the injuries it’s been very difficult,” Margaritis said. “Our post players had four fouls and there’s no one else to go to. They weren’t as aggressive because if they fouled out, we don’t have a post player to go to.”
At times this season Margaritis wondered if they would even be able to finish the game or whether they’d have to forfeit with only four players. It was an incredible season that ended short of their own expectations, but maybe the upset wasn’t as shocking as it seemed on paper.
UC Riverside (23-8) just ran out of bodies and ran out of time.
“This does not define our season,” Margaritis said. “Davis played hard, they played well and they deserved to win.”
The Aggies (19-12) advance to the championship game for the first time since 2011 and the fourth time in program history. It’s also the first time since 2012 the top seed has been upset in the semifinals, when No. 7 Long Beach State took down Cal Poly.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
No matter what Long Beach State does, Hawai'i is always a step ahead.
After two games against the second-seeded Rainbow Wahine this season - both losses - the third-seeded 49ers thought they had finally figured out the right game plan: Crowd the paint, force the ‘Bows to take contested shots from the perimeter. Hawaii shot under 30 percent all season from the arc, but reserve guard Marissa Wimbley thwarted that plan when she made six of the ‘Bows 12 3-pointers in a 76-60 win against The Beach in the semifinal round of the Big West Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament on Friday at Honda Center.
“We wanted to see if Hawaii could beat us from the perimeter and that’s what they did,” Long Beach State head coach Jody Wynn said. “They destroyed us off the boards and knocked it down from the 3-point line.”
Long Beach (24-8) bucked their signature press in favor of a man-to-man defense, putting all of their bodies in the paint. But even then, Hawaii’s size overwhelmed them in the post and the ‘Bows grabbed 12 offensive boards and scored 22 second chance points.
Raven Benton scored 27 points for The Beach, but that wasn’t necessarily in the game plan.
“That’s really not how we play, where one kid takes the majority of the shots,” Wynn said. “We’re a pretty equal opportunity team, but I think today because of the physical nature and moving the ball wasn’t easy for us, so the ball found its way into Raven's hands.”
Hawaii out-rebounded the Beach 41-17. It was a season-low mark for the 49ers.
“I think we came in with the mindset that we’re bigger than them and that in order for us to win, we have to dominate the boards,” Hawaii sophomore center Megan Huff said. “Even if scoring wasn’t working, we know that we have to rebound.”
It’s the Rainbow Wahine’s second straight trip to the Big West Championship game. Last year, they fell to CSUN, who made its second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We planned on being in the championship, that’s the kind of confidence you need this time of year,” Hawaii head coach Laura Beeman said. “We’ve been planning to play either Riverside or Davis. Davis is a very good team, balanced inside and outside. They’ve got size. We split with them this year so it’s going to be a very good game tomorrow by two teams who are very hungry.”
Experience in last year’s game is crucial, Wimbley says.
“It’s a different feel this year,” she said. “These nerves are good nerves. We’re more experienced and a lot of the younger classmates look to us upperclassmen [to lead]...it allows us to stay balanced and composed.”
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