As was the case with the men’s basketball team from CSU Bakersfield, history did not repeat itself in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament for the women’s basketball team.
For the first time since CSUB joined the conference in 2013, the second-seeded Roadrunners have advanced to the WAC tournament finals with a 61-55 victory over third-seeded Grand Canyon University.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight,” said CSUB head coach Greg McCall. “We knew both teams wanted this really bad. It was a historical moment for us because we had never gotten to this point before.”
With 4:23 remaining, a turnaround hook shot by redshirt-senior center Jazmyne Bartee gave the Roadrunners a 56-55 lead. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
CSUB closed the game on a 7-0 run, while GCU missed its last six shots from the floor.
The Roadrunners were led by junior guard Alexxus Gilbert who finished with 14 points. She had a steal, a fast break layup and knocked down three free throws in the last two minutes to put the game out of reach.
Freshman forward/center Vanessa Austin added 13 points and grabbed three offensive rebounds. Austin hit a turnaround shot on the baseline in the fourth quarter to snap a scoreless streak for CSUB that lasted almost four and half minutes.
“My mind is blown right now,” said Austin after the win. “This is a great opportunity for us and I’m just glad I get to share it with these guys.”
The Lopes jumped out to an early 14-6 lead in the first, but The Roadrunners closed the gap and trailed 16-14 after the quarter.
During the second quarter, senior forward Aja Williams committed a hard foul on redshirt-senior guard Jordan Jackson. After review from the officials, it was determined to be a flagrant foul.
“My emotions are very high right now and I’m not used to that,” said Williams. “I’m just trying to stay poised because I know this is a big opportunity for me and my teammates.
Williams struggled with her shot in the win, shooting only 2-12, but finished with a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. She also knocked down all six of her free throw shots.
“We wouldn’t be here without Aja on the floor,” said McCall. “She’s come so far, not just as a player but as a teammate as well.”
After only shooting 64.8 percent from the free throw line as a team coming into Friday’s game, the Roadrunners shot 13-of-16 from the charity stripe.
CSUB also scored 23 points off turnovers and added 10 fast break points.
Up next, the Roadrunners will take on fourth-seeded Seattle University in the WAC tournament finals on Saturday, March 10 at 2 p.m. at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Redhawks dominated the top-seeded Aggies in the other semifinals matchup of the tournament.
Tomorrow’s winner will receive an automatic bid to the women’s NCAA tournament.
All photos by Vincent Perez/ The Runner