Ventura College's bid for an unprecedented third consecutive state women's basketball championship remained alive, but the Pirates had to rally to defeat Merritt, 67-62, in a quarterfinal of the state tournament Thursday night at Concordia University.
Ventura (35-1), ranked No. 1 in the state the entire season, trailed, 28-21, after a cold-shooting first half and appeared on the verge of being dominated by Merritt's Myiesha Jones and Ebony Williams, who combined for 26 points in the first half.
The Pirates, however, won for the 106th time in the past 108 games by applying a stifling full-court press in the second half and forcing 20 turnovers.
"We just put pressure on them," Ventura Coach Ned Mircetic said. "We're not big enough to hang with them inside. The bottom line is, we were down but we just kept playing hard. That's been the trademark of this team. There are no secrets."
Sophomore guard Amirah Leonard, who scored only two points in the first half, finished with 19.
"At halftime, we had a talk and calmed down," Leonard said. "We knew what mistakes we were making."
Ventura will play DeAnza, an 87-79 winner over Orange Coast, in a semifinal today at 5 at UC Irvine.
The Pirates started the second half by forcing five turnovers that triggered a 15-6 run. Ventura took a 38-36 lead with 12:30 to play and Merritt (25-10) regained the lead only at 59-58 on Jones' basket.
Jones, a freshman and player of the year in the Bay Valley Conference, scored 32 points. Williams, a sophomore, did not score in the second half after getting 11 in the first half.
"We had to box them out and not let anyone get any more rebounds," Leonard said. "We worked hard."
Leonard and Lynda Amari of Ventura combined to miss all 11 of their three-point shots in the first half. Leonard did not score until making a layup with eight minutes left in the half.
Ventura made only eight of 36 shots in the first half.
Amari, who scored four points in the first half, finished with 16, including a three-point basket that gave Ventura a 61-59 lead with two minutes to play.
"Maybe we were a little afraid," Amari said. "We needed to calm down. We talked a little bit about that at halftime, that was it."
April Kozar scored 13 points for Ventura.