Cheryl Dowell, a senior forward who often is overlooked when opponents prepare for Cal State Long Beach, had 20 points and 13 rebounds Sunday as the 49ers defeated St. Joseph’s, 84-65, in the second round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. women’s basketball tournament.
Let that be a lesson to Long Beach’s future opponents. There are more than two players who can contribute to the seventh-ranked 49ers.
As most teams concentrate on Penny Toler and Traci Waites, two of the country’s quickest and most talented guards, the rest of the 49ers often are neglected.
Such an oversight allowed Dowell to work inside and equal her season high in scoring as second-seeded Long Beach gained a relatively easy East Regional victory before 1,304 in the 49ers’ University Gym.
The 49ers (29-4), who will play Ohio State in the regional semifinals at Bowling Green, Ky. Thursday, made their eighth-consecutive tournament appearance, and have never lost in their first game.
Dowell understands that she is not the player opponents plan to stop when preparing for Long Beach.
“I’m sure that when they practice for us they don’t think of me,” Dowell said. “I’m not a big name when they look at the players on our team.”
But when the 49ers’ prepared for St. Joseph’s, Dowell was told she would play an integral part in the Long Beach game plan.
The coaching staff gave her a tough assignment:
--She was to play aggressive, stingy defense in guarding the Hawks’ Dale Hodges, who averages 23 points a game.
--She was expected to score more than her average of nine points a game.
“All the players were teasing me during practice,” Dowell said. “They were talking about, ‘You have your hands full.’ I decided to take it calmly and go with the flow. Today I went in there with a cool head.”
Dowell forgot to mention a hot hand. She led all scorers in the first half with 14 points. She also had nine rebounds, four steals and held Hodges to 11 points.
St. Joseph Coach Jim Foster twice called a time out to adjust to Dowell in the first half. He said they had expected the 49ers to score from the outside but were taken aback by Dowell.
“I think it hurts,” he said. “You are talking about a team that gets 21 points from one guard and 16 or 17 from the other. When they are not effective, someone has to answer it. She (Dowell) answered it.”
The 49ers led by as many as 15 in the first half while accomplishing at least one important goal--get Hodges and forward Kim Foley in foul trouble. Both players--Foley averages 19 points--watched the latter stages of the first half from the sidelines.
Long Beach stepped up the tempo in the second half, and St. Joseph’s tried to follow.
“They have just got tremendous athletes,” Foster said. “You can’t teach that quickness. You better be ready to load it up and pull the trigger, because it you’re not, they’re right there.”
The Hawks seemed to get into the quick tempo of the second half, pulling to within six at 14:51. However, Toler then took over. The senior scored 10 of the next 12 points for Long Beach and the game was never close after that.
Despite Dowell’s efforts, Hodges had a blistering second half. She scored a career-high 35 points, most coming from hard work inside.
“We discussed it at the half,” she said. “We set up a different offense. I posted up a little harder and my teammates were able to get me the ball.”
Foley, playing her last collegiate game, had 11 points.
Toler led the 49ers with 22 points, Waites had 18--including three three-pointers--and Shameil Coleman had 14.
For Dowell, the game was a constant effort, but in the end, quite satisfying.
“It’s tough to pace yourself,” she said. “You are playing defense on such a good player and then you have to go down the floor and produce on offense. There were a couple of times I was going down (on offense) and I thought, ‘God, I’m so tired.’ But the intensity and the crowd pulled me through.”
Long Beach Notes
Ohio State, Long Beach’s next opponent, beat James Madison in the second round Sunday, 81-66. The regions top-seeded team, Tennessee, will play Virginia. The women’s Final Four is at Tacoma, Wash., March 31 to April 2.