March 11, 2021 

What we learned from Big West Tournament Day 2

Sierra Campisano is an absolute beast

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Cal State Bakersfield takes the floor during the Big West Tournament quarterfinals on March 10, 2021. (photo courtesy of the Big West Conference)

The Big West tournament continued on Wednesday with several quarterfinal matchups. Here’s a closer look at each of the tournament games and matchups heading into the semifinals.

1. No. 1 UC Davis 61, No. 9 Cal State Fullerton 54

The Cal State Fullerton Titans reward for winning their first-round game against UC Riverside was a meeting with the top team in the Big West, the UC Davis Aggies.

The Aggies had a late start to their season as they were unable to begin play on time due to Yolo County health orders, the California County in which they reside. But once they were able to resume basketball activities, they quickly shot up to a familiar place atop the conference standings.

UC Davis built up a double-digit lead by halftime but were outscored 38-29 in the second half as Cal State Fullerton mounted a furious rally. Aggies head coach Jennifer Gross knew that despite Fullerton’s halftime deficit, the Titians were not going to go away quietly.

“I’ve coached in this conference long enough to know that every game is a battle. There’s such great coaching in our conference this time of year in particular,” Gross said. “Everybody just plays so hard and really wants to advance. I was really proud of our team…We found a way to get it done.”

Cal State Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada was pleased with his team’s effort coming out of the locker room in the second half. The Titans have weathered adversity all season long especially with injuries and Harada knew they were going to make this a contested game.

“We gave ourselves a chance and battled to the end and that’s been kind of the story of our team all season long,” Harada said. “Just battling, battling, battling, and never giving up. I think that’s the definition of a champion. We’re not failures this year…the lessons that we learned, we got better, we got tougher…it’s only going to pay dividends going forward and very, very proud of this team.”

UC Davis was led by senior forward Cierra Hall who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Hall has been asked to take on additional scoring duties this season and after the game, she said she was prepared to do whatever necessary to help get the win.

“I was just prepared to come out here and do whatever my team needed,” Hall said. “If that’s 30 minutes, if it’s 10 minutes, it’s really whatever we need to do to win, I’m willing to do. It was a great game and I’m really excited to be able to keep playing.”

UC Davis will face off against Hawaii on Friday in the conference semifinals.

2. No. 5 Hawaii 81, No 4. Cal State Bakersfield 67

Both the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine and the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners have had grueling seasons due to COVID-19 pauses, and for the Roadrunners, the latest one couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Cal State Bakersfield’s quarterfinal loss to Hawaii marked the first time they’ve played a game since Feb. 19 due to a program shutdown over health and safety measures. Without being able to practice for almost two weeks, the Roadrunners put up a valiant effort before ultimately running out of gas late in the game.

Roadrunners head coach Greg McCall had nothing but praise for his team after the game for having endured such a tough season and showing up to compete in the postseason despite not being in the best position to be ready to play.

“The sacrifice they made throughout the season…it hurts a lot,” McCall said. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but it is what it is. I’m so proud of how hard they played…It was going to be one of those things where if we could gut this game out right here, our energy level and our mental capacity would’ve been so much better for the next game…It’s hard to be able to do those things when you cannot work out and cannot practice.”

Hawaii outscored Cal State Bakersfield, 24-17 in the fourth quarter as they built up a double-digit lead that proved insurmountable. They were quicker to loose balls, sharper on offense, and put forth a strong effort on the glass.

Helping lead the way was freshman guard and Big West Sixth Player of the Year Daejah Phillips who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, and three assists. Phillips was brilliant in the second half in particular with her activity on the glass and being able to draw the defense and find open teammates. After the game, Phillips affirmed her desire to lead the Rainbow Wahine to the NCAA Tournament.

“I came here to be a winner, I wanted to make history at this program. I want to go home with a championship,” Phillips said. “We had a talk at halftime and we had to go out and outrebound them. That’s what we did, we came outrebounded and put it back in.”

Hawaii head coach Laura Beeman, whose team went through a COVID pause of their own, expressed sympathy for Cal State Bakersfield after the game.

“You’re worried about conditioning, you’re worried about kids getting hurt, you’re worried about chemistry…you worry about everything,” Beeman said. “COVID makes things unfair. It puts people in quarantine longer, it does things to people’s mentality…You just tell your kids to go out and play the best they possibly can, you want to make sure their hearts and their heads are okay.”

Hawaii will face off against UC Davis on Friday.

3. No. 2 UC Irvine 92, No. 7 UC Santa Barbara 90

Despite their record, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos are a well-coached team under Bonnie Henrickson and were probably better than their 7-14 record would suggest. A slew of injuries, as well as opt-outs, left the Gauchos with a shorter roster, but they gave UC Irvine all they could handle before falling just short.

After senior guard Danae Miller missed a shot in the key in the closing seconds, junior wing Bri Anugwom secured an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. She missed the first free throw however and after intentionally missing the second, UC Irvine was able to gain possession and win the game.

Henrickson was proud of her team for competing as hard as they did and she praised them postgame for their resiliency after losing several key players during the season.

“Don’t let what you don’t have keep you from using what you do have,” Henrickson said. “Our pieces found a way. We were resilient and we were humble because when you’re humble, you can improve. This group has humility…we make mistakes and that’s basketball, there’s hundreds of mistakes in a game. But we cleaned it up and we never made excuses.”

Both teams traded blows for the entirety of the fourth quarter with neither team able to gain an upper hand. UC Irvine was clinging to a small lead and saw it evaporate due to some hot three-point shooting from the Gauchos.

After the game, UC Irvine head coach Tamara Inoue revealed that she had a secret motivation plan for her team that despite the win, maybe didn’t work as well as she intended.

“I sang them a song in the timeout. They made fun of me so I decided to coach them,” Inoue laughed. “I talked to them about defending, not giving up threes, and not fouling. We didn’t do any of that. I’m probably not going to sing anymore, I think I distracted them.”

UC Irvine will face off against Cal Poly on Friday.

Justina King, Long Beach State. (photo courtesy of the Big West Conference)

4. No. 6 Cal Poly 61, No. 3 Long Beach State 60

It was a night of unfinished business for the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs as their underdog run in the Big West tournament last year was cut short when the remainder of the postseason was canceled due to COVID.

A lower seed once again, the Mustangs prevailed on a game-winning hook shot in the paint from redshirt sophomore guard Maddie Willett with 0.6 seconds left. After losing senior leader Sierra Campisano who finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, the Mustangs never folded and hung on for the win.

Although Willett was not the initial option for the game-winning shot, she knew she had to go up with it when she caught the ball and time running out. For her, it was a throwback to her high school days as she hasn’t played in the post since then.

“We actually didn’t get the ball to where we wanted to at first, but it ended up working out. Even with a couple fumbles, we were able to secure the ball and I just posted up down low,” Willett said. “I’m not really a post, but I took my shot.”

If it seems like this road for Cal Poly is a little bit familiar, that’s because it is. They upset Long Beach State last year as well before upsetting UC Irvine in the second round. As fate would have it, UC Irvine is the second-round opponent again.

“I’m super excited to make it to the semis, I think we’re in a really good position,” Campisano said after the game. “It feels a little bit like fate to us cause that’s kind of how it went down last year. We’re ready to take care of some unfinished business.”

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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