Cal State Long Beach, under pressure that it has faced only a few times this season, was able to rekindle its running game in time to defeat Ohio State, 89-83, Thursday in an East Regional semifinal of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. women’s basketball tournament.
Eight times in the first half, the seventh-ranked 49ers trailed by 12 points, the last time 3:02 before halftime, 44-32.
“We needed something like this to show us we are beatable,” 49er forward Shameil Coleman said after the victory before an estimated crowd of 2,500 in Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena.
It was a long way back for the 49ers, who tied the game, 79-79, on Traci Waites’ baseline jumper with 3:14 left in the game.
The teams traded baskets before Waites gave Long Beach its first lead, 83-81, with 2:09 left, and the 49ers never trailed after that. Waites finished with 23 points and Penny Toler led the 49ers with 27 points.
Long Beach (30-4) advanced to the regional final against top-seeded Tennessee (32-2), which had little trouble beating Virginia, 80-47. The regional final will be played here Saturday at 9 a.m., PST.
Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini told reporters that she was not overly concerned in the first half as her team was outrebounded and badly beaten inside.
“This team has been down in the first half before, it has been down by double figures at the half, but it always finds a way to win,” she said.
But Ohio State, cheered on by a large and loud contingent of red-clad fans, appeared in control with a 46-38 halftime lead that was built on a 21-14 edge on the boards.
With the Buckeyes’ dominating the boards, Long Beach couldn’t get its fast break going.
The second half dawned differently, however.
Bonvicini put the taller Coleman on Buckeye guard Lisa Cline, who had 16 points in the first half. Cline had only six points in the second half.
Another difference was help from the 49ers’ bench. When Toler went out with her fourth foul with 10:44 left in the game, she was replaced by Dana Wilkerson, who played well defensively. And reserve freshman Janet Haneberg gave the 49ers seven rebounds.
When Toler returned with 4:35 left, she got the offense rolling.
And the game’s second-half pace took a toll on Ohio State, especially on Cline, who did not put up much of a defensive struggle as Coleman poured in 13 of her 15 points in the last 10 minutes. Coleman also had eight rebounds.
And the Buckeyes’ 6-foot forward, Nikita Lowry, who seemed to score at will in the first half, couldn’t find her range in the second half, though she finished with 33 points and 12 rebounds.
But even in the waning seconds, Long Beach had some anxious moments. Ohio State called a timeout with 30 seconds left after Long Beach had taken an 86-83 lead. After the timeout, Waites’ inbounds pass to Wilkerson bounced into the stands, giving the Buckeyes the ball.
With 29 seconds left, Ohio State’s Liana Coutts, who had made only one basket in the game, put up a shot from the top of the key that was no good.
Long Beach then sealed the victory with free throws.
Despite its national ranking, which was as high as No. 2 this season, Cal State Long Beach apparently has an identity crisis with the NCAA, which had T-shirts made for each of the four teams in the regional. The shirts for Long Beach were red, and read “Lady Vikings.” The insignia on the front was from Long Beach City College. NCAA officials removed the T-shirts from the vendors. . . . Penny Toler got off to a bad start--she didn’t start the game. She couldn’t get a ring off her right hand--jewelry is not allowed--so Dana Wilkerson started in her place. Teammate Tonya Swoffer eventually yanked the ring off. Not without some pain.
“She’s not going to be a nurse, I’ll tell you that,” said Toler, who entered the game after a minute and a half was played. It was only the second game this season that Toler hadn’t started. The first time was against Tennessee, when Toler was benched for the game’s first few minutes because she went shopping at the Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta during a layover and missed the team flight to Knoxville.