Merritt Eliminates No. 2 Valley Women in State Quarterfinals

After going where no Valley College women's basketball team had gone before--the quarterfinals of the California junior college tournament--the Monarchs have nowhere to go but home.

Merritt College of Oakland, employing a full-court press that slowed a normally potent Valley offense, beat the Monarchs, 58-41, Thursday at Cypress College.

"We just didn't attack. We were too hesitant," Valley Coach Jim Stephens said. "We've been so good at attacking on offense that nobody pressed against us all year."

Until Thursday, when it counted.

Merritt (24-8), seeded seventh, will play No. 1-seeded College of the Sequoias at 6 tonight. And Valley can start looking for a coach.

Stephens, who guided Valley (25-5) to its best season, will coach the men's team next season. He leaves a team that includes nine freshmen. And it may have been the inexperience of those freshmen that led to Valley's loss.

After trailing at halftime, 25-24, Merritt took a 28-25 lead two minutes into the second half on consecutive baskets by forward Yasmin Gray, the Golden Gate Conference's leading scorer this season with an 18.5 average. Gray finished with a game-high 18 points.

Valley fought back on a pair of baskets by Maryjo Testa and one by Lenise Collins, and five minutes later had reclaimed the lead, 31-30.

With momentum on its side, it appeared that Valley was in position to take control. But after a timeout by the Monarchs, Merritt scored three unanswered baskets to spark a 12-4 run, and when Valley called its second timeout with a little more than seven minutes remaining, the Thunderbirds had built what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

"Because of the style they play," Merritt Coach Fred Brown said, "it is hard for them to come back after they're down by 10 or so points."

Not only was Valley unable to come back, it fell further behind and trailed by as many as 17 with 2:41 left.

Coming into the game, Stephens said he wasn't as concerned with stopping the Merritt offense--Valley's defense ranks fifth in the state--as he was with scoring.

Valley's 41-point total Thursday was its third-lowest this season. Leading scorer Dametra Johnson, who averaged 18 in Southern California Athletic Assn. games, finished with 14, as did Testa. The next highest Valley scorer was Jeannie Washington with five.

"We did a lot of talking about coming in here and scoring," Stephens said. "But when we got here, we did not play the way we did to get here in the first place.

"We're not a great team. We're an inexperienced team," he said.

"I'm still disappointed. We had good practices and then we came here and we did not shoot very well, we made bad passes, didn't attack, didn't bring the ball up."

The numbers confirmed Stephens' assessment. Valley shot 40% percent in the first half and committed 19 turnovers to Merritt's six.

"I don't want it to sound like I'm making excuses," Stephens continued. "Merritt came an awful long way to play this game, and they came here to win. Obviously, we didn't. If you can't get excited for this, the state tournament, what can you get excited for?"

Next season, perhaps.

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