Tigers Fall To Cal Poly In Big West Tournament Championship

Gena Johnson - Photo by Carlos Delgado
Gena Johnson - Photo by Carlos Delgado

Anaheim, Calif. – In its final game as a Big West member, the Pacific women's basketball team fell to Cal Poly, 63-49, in the Big West Tournament's championship game Saturday at the Honda Center.

Pacific (25-7) clinched a spot in the Women's NIT after winning the conference's regular-season crown, but will hold out hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship. The win gave Cal Poly (21-10) the Big West's automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Junior Gena Johnson led Pacific with 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Senior Erica McKenzie chipped in 11 points, hitting a pair of three-pointers. Both earned Big West All-Tournament honors.

Senior Kendall Rodriguez added 10 points and five rebounds while senior Ashley Wakefield notched eight points.

Trailing by 12 at the break, Pacific came out of the locker room with a renewed intensity, reducing its deficit to just four points, 33-29, in the first four minutes while holding Cal Poly scoreless. The Mustangs broke their scoreless streak on two free throws from Caroline Reeves before a Nikol Allison lay-up at the 14:58 mark gave Cal Poly its first field goal of the second half and restored an eight-point lead.

Each time Pacific seemed poised to make a game-changing run, the Mustangs had an answer. Johnson's baseline runner brought the Tigers to within six, 39-33, with 10:59 to play, but Ariana Elegado put the Mustangs up nine on a three-pointer on Cal Poly's next possession. McKenzie buried a three-pointer while falling down to pull Pacific back to within six at the 7:26 mark, but Cal Poly responded with a free throw from Allison and a jumper from Reeves, restoring the Mustangs' nine-point lead.

With 3:54 remaining, Rodriguez caught a pass from Wakefield on the right wing and drilled a three-pointer to cut Cal Poly's lead back to six, 49-43. The Mustangs got a pair of free throws from Elegado on its ensuing possession, however, and after McKenzie's fast-break lay-up rimmed out, Molly Schlemer converted a lay-up to give Cal Poly a 10-point advantage, 53-43, with 1:46 left to play.

Wakefield would draw a foul on the Tigers' next possession, making her first and missing her second. Senior Ashley Smith corralled Wakefield's missed free throw, putting it back in to cut the Mustangs' lead to seven at the 1:30 mark. Elegado answered with a jumper, but Johnson was able to draw contact and earn a trip to the line, making one of two free throws as Pacific found itself down eight, 55-47, with 1:10 remaining.

Trying to lengthen the game, the Tigers fouled Elegado on Cal Poly's next possession, and she converted both free throws to restore the Mustangs' 10-point advantage. Rodriguez missed a three-pointer on Pacific's next time down the court, and the Mustangs made all six of their free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

Pacific shot just 11 free throws, making five, while Cal Poly connected on 24 of its 30 fouls shots. The Tigers shot just four second-half free throws as the Mustangs were 13-of-16 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes.

The Tigers shot 39-percent in the second half after hitting just 27-percent of their shots in the first half. Pacific uncharacteristically missed a number of easy looks in the first half, allowing Cal Poly to build its early lead. Pacific held the Mustangs to 36-percent shooting in the second half after Cal Poly shot 46-percent in the opening 20 minutes.

Both teams notched 20 points in the paint. Cal Poly had 15 points off turnovers, outscoring the Tigers by two, but Pacific had eight second-chance points to the Mustangs' six.

Elegado led all scorers with 22 points while Reeves and Allison added 10 points apiece. Schlemer grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and chipped in seven points.

Schlemer got Cal Poly on the board first, converting a pair of free throws at the 19:01 mark. She would extend the Mustangs' lead on a fast-break lay-up one minute later as the Tigers had two baskets taken away due in the early going to an offensive foul and a traveling call.

Rodriguez broke Pacific's cold spell, drilling a three-pointer before McKenzie buried a triple at the 15:02 mark, giving the Tigers a 6-4 advantage. The Mustangs answered with a quick 4-0 run to regain the lead, but Johnson's running jumper in the paint tied things at 8-8 with 12:54 on the clock.

Ervin gave the Mustangs their largest lead, 16-11, on a lay-up with 8:06 on the clock, but a lay-up from freshman Hallie Eackles pulled Pacific back to within three. The Mustangs scored seven of the next nine points to take a 10-point lead, 23-13, at the 5:23 mark before jumpers from McKenzie and Rodriguez brought the Tigers back to within six thirty seconds later.

The Mustangs extended their lead to as many as 15, 33-18, with a little more than one minute remaining in the half. Wakefield scored the final three points of the opening period as Pacific trailed by 12, 33-21, heading into halftime.