No one had given much thought to the notion that Angelique Lee, center on Cal State Long Beach’s basketball team, was a secret weapon. A big weapon, surely. An injured weapon, of course. But not a secret one.
However, in Long Beach’s 89-81 victory over Nevada Las Vegas Saturday at the Long Beach Arena, which gave the 49ers their third consecutive Big West tournament championship, Lee functioned in just that manner.
The 6-foot-4 junior unexpectedly came off the bench and overcame the pain of a severely sprained ankle to score 15 points in 14 minutes, giving the 49ers much-needed help inside.
Seventh-ranked Long Beach is 3-0 this season against Las Vegas and 17-1 since the teams have been playing.
The 49ers have not lost against Big West opponents this season, winning 21 consecutive games, a school record. Long Beach is 28-4 overall, Las Vegas is 25-6.
Usually the starting center, Lee had not played since injuring her right ankle Feb. 23. She did not start against UNLV, but at a crucial juncture in the second half, Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini gave her the call.
“I was saving Angie as long as we could,” Bonvicini said. “I wouldn’t have put her in if I didn’t need her.”
After leading by as many as 15 points in the first half, the 49ers sputtered in the opening minutes of the second half. Las Vegas reeled off eight straight points, paring the Long Beach lead to 57-51 at 16:47, when Lee entered the game.
Bonvicini often talks about the center’s “intimidation factor.” It was evident on the first play.
Within seconds, Lee blocked a pass. In less than two minutes, she had scored three points and established her presence underneath.
The 49ers were fortunate to have the help. The Rebels had no one to assist hard-working Pauline Jordan. Jordan had 38 points and 17 rebounds and was the only player on either team to play the entire 40 minutes. However, no other Las Vegas player scored in double figures.
Jordan led the Rebels to a stirring comeback late in the game, which roused the crowd of 3,522. Her basket at 8:05 brought Las Vegas to within two, 72-70. Minutes later, her twin sister, Geannine, sank back-to-back baskets to bring the Rebels to within one, 78-77.
Bring on the secret weapon. Lee, who had been resting her ankle, came back into the game.
On the first play, she batted away a Las Vegas pass, which was picked up by teammate Penny Toler. Toler got the ball back to Lee, who put the 49ers ahead, 80-77, with 3:39 to play.
That was as close as Las Vegas would get, as Toler scored seven points in the next two minutes to put the game away.
Toler led the 49ers with 28 points. Traci Waites had 24.
Named to the Big West all-tournament team were Pauline Jordan of UNLV, Gena Miller of Cal State Fullerton, Judy Mosley of Hawaii, Traci Waites of Long Beach and Shameil Coleman of Long Beach. Penny Toler of Long Beach was named the tournament’s most valuable player. . . . Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said she expected her team to be among the top eight seeded teams nationally. Wherever Long Beach is assigned to play in the NCAA tournament, it won’t be nearby. The West Regionals will be at Austin, Tex.