LA JOLLA, Calif. - Kayla Sato found herself in the right place at the right time.
With the Tritons trailing by one and struggling to inbound the ball under their own basket with 1.4 seconds remaining, Sato cut hard down the lane and was fouled putting up a shot off a pass from Taylor Tanita.
The junior forward calmly sank both free throws off the busted inbounds play, lifting the University of California San Diego women’s basketball team to a key victory Friday night over Humboldt State, 64-63, in a battle of the top two teams in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) standings who both entered as winners of seven straight.
With the result, UC San Diego (12-2, 8-0 CCAA) remains unbeaten in conference play and all alone atop the CCAA standings.
“This was big,” said Sato, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds. “It’s the top two teams in the conference and I think we had something to prove, especially on our home court.”
With UC San Diego trailing, 63-60, with just under a minute remaining, senior Dalayna Sampton scored inside to pull the Tritons within one. Humboldt State’s Tyla Turner missed inside on the other end with 29 seconds left, setting the stage for Sato’s last-second heroics.
Sampton led UC San Diego with 22 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore Mikayla Williams recorded 14 points with nine rebounds and three blocks. Sophomore guard Sydney Sharp added 11 points with three three-pointers, as UCSD shot 43 percent (6-for-14) from beyond the arc.
Turner scored a game-high 25 points with eight rebounds for Humboldt State (8-6, 7-2 CCAA), while senior Kindall Murie added 14 points.
The Tritons held yet another opponent under 40 percent shooting from the field on Friday night, as Humboldt State shot just 39 percent (23-59). UC San Diego entered the weekend ranked 27th in the nation in defensive field goal percentage (.349), holding its last six opponents under 40 percent shooting.
The Tritons took a 36-31 lead into halftime and extended their advantage to nine after two Sampton free throws with 7:59 remaining in the third quarter. After a jumper by Sato put UCSD ahead 52-45 with 3:24 left in the third, the Lumberjacks went on a 7-1 run to close the period and pull within one heading into the fourth quarter.
The Tritons now have a quick turnaround, as UC San Diego plays host to Chico State on Saturday night at RIMAC Arena beginning at 5:30 p.m.