In your face, Cal State Fullerton!
Not necessarily the sentiments of Cal State Long Beach, but definitely the strategy employed Saturday against the Titans.
The 49ers smothered the Titans from start to finish and came away with the Big West Conference women's basketball tournament title after posting a 71-60 victory at the Long Beach Arena.
Long Beach (23-7) has won the tournament four of the past five years. The 49ers will take a 15-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament, which they have made for the 10th consecutive season.
This after starting 8-7 and falling out of the top 25 for the first time since January, 1979.
Fullerton, which had won eight in a row, is 24-7 and likely to be selected to the tournament.
Having split regular-season games against the Titans, Long Beach sought to apply more pressure--and that it did.
"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.
Starters Joey Ray and Michelle Hennessey combined for only 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 she had at Genia Miller, who found herself unable to get into position for easy baskets.
The high-lob passes that Titan guards so often take for granted were constantly being swatted away by 6-foot-3 Danielle Scott and 6-2 Kari Parriott.
"Finding an angle to the basket was my biggest problem," said Miller, a 6-3 senior. Coming off a 44-point performance against New Mexico State on Friday night, Miller finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds against the 49ers. Her eight-of-20 shooting was well below her 60% average.
"Genia will always get her points," Bonvicini said. "But we wanted her to earn those points."
Offensively, Long Beach took advantage of the quickness of its guards, who were able to get open with regularity.
Wilkerson and Trise Jackson scored 19 and 13 points, respectively. Forward Penny Moore finished with 21 points.
"I thought I played the best defense ever," Moore said. "And I think I have the worst defense in the game."
Despite the full-court press and its effectiveness, the game was close until the 49ers pulled away in the final minutes.
Fullerton, which never led, twice climbed back from--but never erased--10-point deficits and got to within two, with 9:26 remaining after Miller put in an alley-oop pass from Heidi James and made it 51-49.
But Long Beach then went on a 13-4 run capped by Moore's three-point play that made it 64-52 with 3:29 remaining.
The Titans had little left after that.
"It's hard to shoot with hands in your face all day," Fullerton Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah said. "They play a great pressure defense."
Long Beach shot 51% in the first half--and finished at 43%--and the 49ers' full-court press was effective in shutting down the Fullerton transition game.