The Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball team remained on track for a Cinderella story in the Big West Tournament after upsetting rival Long Beach State 54-48 in the first round on Tuesday.
The eighth-seeded Titans came into the game against the 49ers with a record of 10-21, losers of three straight and without a conference tournament victory since defeating UC Irvine on March 10, 2010. CSULB entered with a 16-14 record, seeded fifth.
But an empty bench on the sidelines inspired the navy and orange—Monica Quan, the Titan assistant coach whose life was taken more than a month ago, is still missed by the team.
“Obviously we miss Monica tremendously, and we’ve had a lot of support from her parents,” said Head Coach Marcia Foster. “Her dad texted me yesterday and just said ‘Go win a game.’ Monica always believed this team had something special if we could just put together two halves.”
The game started slow, with both teams appearing hesitant. Two points by CSULB was the only scoring that took place in the first five minutes of the game. Finally, with 14:50 remaining in the first half, the Titans were able to shake their pre-game jitters and get on the scoreboard thanks to a bucket by forward Mya Olivier.
“At first we were a little iffy on what we needed to do on offense,” said Olivier.
After both teams traded baskets, CSULB managed to open a 16-9 lead with 4:49 remaining in the first half. But then CSUF held the 49ers scoreless until the intermission, enabling the Titans to bring the score to 16-13 going into the locker room.
The 13-point first half was the lowest scored in the 23-year history that CSUF has been in the Big West Conference. The Titans shot just 5-32 from the field, good enough for only 15.6 percent. The team also missed all six of its three-point attempts. Olivier lead the Titans in scoring with seven points, and center Lauren Bushong chipped in four points and five rebounds.
The Titans started much better in the second half as it took just 16 seconds for them to get their next basket. The teams countered each others’ scoring over the first seven minutes of the half. During that stretch, the game was tied three times and neither team held a lead greater than four points. But after the game was tied at 26, the 49ers went on a 9-1 run to take a 35-27 advantage with 10:46 to play.
The Titans quelled the Long Beach rally before the deficit could climb to double digits, and then CSUF went on a run of their own. The Titans scored the next 10 points of the game, capped by a floater by guard Chante Miles that gave the Titans a 37-35 lead with 5:06 left on the clock.
“We knew they were going to go on a run. We wanted to make sure no matter what happened, we kept working and never gave up,” guard Alex Thomas said. “The zone (defense) worked really well for us, and we were talking and doing what we needed to do, so that definitely helped us get back in the lead.”
CSUF’s strong play continued as it opened up its biggest cushion of the night, eight points, to lead 46-38 with just 1:46 remaining in the contest. The 49ers got back to within three with 41 seconds to go, but Miles and Thomas hit all four of their free throws in the final minute of the game to seal the 54-48 victory.
Olivier finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, and Bushong nearly had a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Thomas chipped in with 11 points and three rebounds, and Miles added eight points, five assists and four rebounds. Devin Hudson dominated the boards for CSULB, but her 24 rebounds (13 offensive) and 17 points were not enough for the 49ers. She also blocked four shots.
The Titans next opponent will be University of the Pacific—the tournament’s top seed—in the quarterfinals at Honda Center in Anaheim. Pacific (24-6, 14-4 Big West) has not yet played in the tournament.
“We’re definitely excited to get this win right now, but we know have to keep it going and it doesn’t stop here,” Thomas said. “We’re going to be ready for tomorrow.”
For more information, visit FullertonTitans.com.