The Cal State Long Beach women’s basketball team pushed, and Cal State Fullerton gave way Saturday night at the Long Beach Arena.
The 49ers’ full-court press smothered the Titans from start to finish and it paid off in a 71-60 victory and Big West Conference tournament championship.
Long Beach (23-7) won the tournament for the fourth time in the past five years. The No. 21-ranked 49ers take a 15-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament, for which they have qualified 10 times in a row. This after starting the season 8-7 and falling out of the top 25 for the first time since January, 1979.
Fullerton (24-7), a probable entry into the NCAA tournament, had its eight-game winning streak stopped.
The 49ers, having split regular-season games against the Titans, looked to apply pressure Saturday.
“We wanted to give their guards nightmares,” Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said. “We wanted them to dream about our guards in their sleep.”
Titan guards, left open in Fullerton’s first two tournament victories, were harassed for the entire 40 minutes in the team’s first tournament final.
Starters Joey Ray and Michelle Hennessey combined for just 12 points.
“I told myself before the game not to let their pressure get to me,” Hennessey said. “People call me a gnat. Well, they were a lot worse than me.”
Said Long Beach guard Dana Wilkerson: “We had a bet going among our guards to see who could hold Joey Ray to the fewest points. I was to be her shadow for the whole game.”
Bonvicini, meanwhile, threw all the size and strength her team had at Fullerton’s Genia Miller, who found herself unable to get into position for the easy baskets she usually gets.
The high lob pass inside to Miller, which Titan guards so often take for granted, constantly was swatted away by 6-foot-3 Danielle Scott and 6-2 Kari Parriott and 6-4 Bolivia Gaytan.
“Finding an angle to the basket was my biggest problem,” Miller said.
Coming off a 44-point performance against New Mexico State, the 6-foot-3 senior finished with 21 against the 49ers.
Her eight of 20 shooting was well below her 60% average.
“It’s hard for her to play with a big player behind her and a big player in front of her,” Fullerton Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah said. “This made her shoot shots that she hasn’t been taking for most of the year.”
Miller blocked seven shots and led all players with 15 rebounds. Parriott had 10 for the 49ers.
Offensively, Long Beach took advantage of the quickness of its guards, who were able to get open with regularity.
Forward Penny Moore led the 49ers with 21 points while Wilkerson had 19 and point-guard Trise Jackson 13.
Long Beach shot 51% in the first half--and finished at 43%--and from the outset the 49ers’ full-court press was effective in shutting down Fullerton’s transition game.
The 49ers, on the other hand, had little trouble getting the ball downcourt.
Scoring mostly from the perimeter, they jumped to a 28-18 lead with 5 minutes 52 seconds remaining in the half.
And with the muscle of Parriott, Scott and Gaytan, they were able to hold Miller in check.
Miller had only five points in the half until completing a three-point play with 4:00 remaining, which sparked the Titans on an 11-4 run to make it 35-33 at the intermission.
The 49ers, however, began the second half with an 8-0 run and Fullerton was forced to play catch-up.