Cal State Fullerton played a sloppy, streaky game, committed 28 turnovers and blew a 14-point lead. But, in the eight-team women's National Invitational Tournament at Amarillo's Civic Center Coliseum, it's been a steady diet of mediocrity.
The eighth-seeded Titans began their crawl up the consolation bracket ladder Friday night with a 75-71 win over the University of West Virginia in front of 200 listless fans.
The Mountaineers (18-10) were the tournament's fifth seed. Even with the win, all Fullerton can hope for is a fifth-place finish if it beats West Texas State (25-5) today in the consolation final.
It's not the place Fullerton (18-11) expected to be when the tournament began. But it's where they are, and it's where letdowns and lapses have brought them. If not for five minutes of uninspired play Thursday night, Fullerton might have beaten top-seeded Texas Tech. The Titans haven't been able to put together a cohesive, consistent effort yet in this tournament.
Friday night was typical. Fullerton started well. Robin Holmes was successful from the perimeter and scored 8 of Fullerton's first 12 points, and Fullerton built a 12-point lead with 3:54 left in the first half.
But sloppy ballhandling and wild passes by Fullerton allowed West Virginia to edge back into the game. The Mountaineers cut the Titan lead to seven, and Fullerton led at the half, 34-27.
"I think the sloppiness is part of the fatigue we feel right now," Fullerton Coach Chris Gobrecht said. "When you play in a tournament like this with these type of teams, you take a beating.
"Part of the problem for us in the first half was the pace was too fast. We don't feel comfortable. We slowed it down in the last three minutes (of the game) and did pretty well."
In the second half, Fullerton had a 14-point lead with 14:42 left in the game. Then West Virginia went into a full court press that frazzled the Titans. With 7:51 left, Lisa Ribble hit on a jumper for the Mountaineers to tie the game at 55-55.
Happily for the Titans, Holmes was shooting as well in the second half as she had in the first. She finished with 19 points and not a few bruises. Twice she crashed to the floor, the collisions irritating already-sore knees.
"I think I might have pulled a muscle in my groin, and I have a golf ball in my elbow," Holmes said, pointing to a large bump on her arm.
"I felt pretty good, but then I couldn't do much worse than last night," Holmes said. She scored 11 points in Fullerton's loss Thursday night "I just tried to relax. I always do better when I relax."
A 15-foot jumper by Holmes and a basket by guard Rhonda Weyer gave Fullerton a four-point lead with 7:50 left.
Four minutes later, after a time out, Fullerton came back on the court with six players. The crowd was shouting at the officials, but, incredibly, Fullerton continued with the extra player for nearly one minute and even scored a basket with the advantage. Only after the entire West Virginia coaching staff had waved and jumped on the sidelines did the officials stop play. The Titans were assessed a technical.
It seems only fair that the officials would be as sloppy as the teams.
Fullerton today plays West Texas State, the local favorite, which defeated Montana, 71-66, Friday. The Buffs are from nearby Canyon and are the team the fans have come to see.
"There can be no doubt that it will be a tremendous advantage for them to play in front of their home crowd," Gobrecht said. "They shoot the ball really well. If we give them any room, they will shoot. But, I'd rather use a player defense like we do than a zone against a team like that."
Louisiana State upset top-seeded Texas Tech, 71-67, to advance to the championship game. LSU (19-9) will meet Florida (22-8), an 87-80 winner over Drake, tonight.