The Cal State East Bay women’s basketball team made the most of its first California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance in program history, pushing Cal State Monterey Bay to the brink in a 46-43 loss on Tuesday at The Kelp Bed. The Pioneers (12-17, 9-13 CCAA) never trailed by more than nine points in the game and held the Otters nearly 20 points under their season average in the narrow loss.
“Our number one goal this year for this program was just to get to the playoffs and some people told us that was a lofty goal and that’s how I sold that to our freshmen,” Head Coach Suzy Barcomb said. “We didn’t just want to get to the playoffs, we wanted to compete. We didn’t play particularly well the last two times we played Monterey Bay, I think they kind of had their way with us and our number focus tonight was to play defense. Clearly, when you hold a team to 20 points below their average, you’re really playing some defense. So I think I’m most proud of that.”
Junior Lauren Lucchesi led the Pioneers with 16 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field, hitting a pair of threes and going 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. Marlene MacMillan finished the game just one point shy of a double-double, posting nine points and leading all players with 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. Brianna Terrance and Micah Walker each added six points for East Bay, with Terrance grabbing three rebounds and Walker notching a pair of steals.
After allowing five players to score in double figures in the last meeting with Cal State Monterey Bay, the Pioneers held all but one Otter under 10 points. Brittani Jefferson led Monterey Bay with a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double in just 13 minutes off the bench. Erika Ward and Stefanie Corgel each added nine points for the Otters, while Shonetta Crain-Williams scored seven points and grabbed seven boards.
The Pioneers shot 35.6 percent from the field and went 3-for-7 from three-point range, but hit just eight of their 13 chances at the free-throw line, including a 4-for-9 performance in the final stretch. East Bay shot better than the Otters overall and from beyond the arc and forced 19 Monterey Bay turnovers, but were out-rebounded for just the fourth time in the last 17 games, with the Otters holding a 38-30 advantage on the glass.
Monterey Bay got out to a fast start, while the Pioneers could not get a bounce during the opening five minutes, getting just two free throws from Lucchesi and rimming out three times during that span. On the other end, the Otters hit a pair of threes but faced tough defense from East Bay, which forced six CSUMB turnovers in the first eight minutes of the half. The Pioneers got a three off the glass and the rim from Lucchesi to notch their first bucket from the field but trailed 14-7 with 12:23 to play. East Bay came out of the second media timeout with the momentum and took advantage, going on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes to tie the game. During the run, the Pioneers got a three from Walker and baskets from Terrance and Carly Bettencourt, while the Otters turned the ball over twice and had a shot blocked by MacMillan to bring the two teams into a 16-16 tie with 8:27 remaining.
“We were the inexperienced team, our nerves were going to be rattled a little bit and it was really evident in the first four or five minutes of the game,” Barcoms said. “We wanted to score early and it took us a little bit to get going. We had four great looks at the rim that went in-and-out and if just one of those had fallen, we probably would have gotten going a little bit quicker.”
Following a near four-minute scoring drought for both squads, East Bay broke through with a second-chance jumper from MacMillan to take its first lead of the game, 18-16, with 5:27 to play. The Otters answered back to start a four-minute span in which the two teams went shot-for-shot before the Otters took a 23-22 lead into the final minute. With just 34 seconds left in the half and Cal State Monterey Bay inbounding the ball, East Bay looked to have cornered the Otters but they got through the defense and got a layup and the foul from Stephens, who missed the free throw to cap the half with the Pioneers trailing 25-22.
Cal State East Bay finished the first half shooting 34.8 percent from the field, including a 2-for-5 showing from three-point range. The Pioneers were out-rebounded by the Otters 20-10 in the half, but forced 11 Cal State Monterey Bay turnovers. On the other end, the Otters went 10-for-24 from the field and shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Both teams started the second half slowly, with the Otters scoring five early points before East Bay scored six straight and got a Monterey Bay offensive foul to tie the game at 30 with 13:19 to play. The two teams then went on a nearly four-minute scoreless streak before a pair of layups off of turnovers gave Cal State Monterey Bay a 34-30 lead. The Pioneers cut the lead back to two with a MacMillan jumper before Stephens made it 36-32 in favor of the Otters with 8:59 to play. A Terrance jumper pulled the Pioneers back within two, 36-34, before Monterey Bay went on a four-point run to push the lead back to six. Though East Bay hit a jumper to make it a four-point game again, the Otters forced the Pioneers’ ninth turnover of the half before hitting a free throw and a layup to take a seven-point lead for the first time since the 12:23 mark in the first half.
Trailing 43-36 with 2:36 to play, the Pioneers could not convert on a pair of free throws and missed an opportunity to cut the lead again after getting a defensive stop on the Otters’ end, turning the ball over with 1:33 to play. Following a Monterey Bay timeout, East Bay got its second straight defensive stop and got a second-chance layup from MacMillan, who followed by completing the and-one play to cut the Otter lead to four, 43-39, with 49 seconds to play.
After a Monterey Bay timeout, the Otters could not convert on the one-and-one chance with 34 seconds left, but got the offensive board and hit the following pair of free throws to regain a six-point lead with 30 seconds remaining. East Bay could not get the bucket on the ensuing trip down the floor and saw Corgel hit her first chance at the line to put the Otters up 46-40. Though the Pioneers got a buzzer-beating three from Lucchesi, they could not pull off the upset in their first CCAA Tournament appearance.
Despite the loss, the Pioneers made history just playing the game, becoming the first Cal State East Bay team to reach the CCAA playoffs since the university became eligible for the Division II postseason last summer. The game also marked the Pioneers first Division II postseason appearance since the 1989-90 season.
Cal State East Bay loses just one senior in Frieda Li, who was the lone remaining player from the Pioneers’ NAIA days. The Pioneers will return their top-four scorers and rebounders for the 2012-13 campaign.