ONTARIO, Calif. - The UC San Diego women's basketball team won its first California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Tournament title Saturday as a strong second half performance led the Tritons to a 66-61 victory against Cal State L.A. at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
The championship win earned UCSD the CCAA's automatic berth in next week's NCAA West Regional.
"Our team really has worked hard all year for this opportunity and I'm very excited for them to have taken advantage of it fully," said first-year UCSD head coach Heidi VanDerveer.
UCSD junior forward Erin Dautremont recorded her sixth double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. She also doled out a team-best four assists and added a block. The West Hills native was named the tournament's most valuable player.
"I basically just came out and tried to play my game, not get worked up in what the other team was doing," said Dautremont, who scored a career-high 28 points in Friday's semifinal win against Cal State Monterey Bay.
Also producing for the Tritons was senior guard Daisy Feder, who totaled a game-high 22 points, hitting four three-pointers and grabbing eight rebounds. Thirteen of Feder's points came in the second half. Emily Osga, also a senior guard, put down 10 points and had six boards. Both Feder and Osga were named to the All-Tournament Team.
"We just wanted it so badly," said Feder. "We knew that if we didn't win, we might not be going to Regionals and that meant everything to us. Words can't even express how happy I am right now. This experience is unbelievable. We made history tonight and it feels amazing."
Cal State L.A. had three players with 10 or more points, including Kelli Lewis (14), Paige Melville (12) and Tessondra Williams (11). Williams also had a team-high seven rebounds, while Lewis led all players in the assist department, dishing out five.
After a dismal 9-for-27 (33.3 percent) effort from the floor in the opening half, UCSD drastically improved its shooting in the second stanza, hitting 14 of 28 (50 percent) attempts.
The Golden Eagles were the exact opposite in their shooting. They made 12 of 26 (46.2 percent) in the first half and dropped way off in the second, going just 10-for-32 (31.3 percent). CSULA didn't help itself from the free throw line either, making only 12 in 22 trips to the stripe, 54.5 percent.
"I think today we were a little bit tight and we felt a little bit of pressure," said VanDerveer. "We knew that L.A. - they're a very good team, they're on a roll - was going to come in and play very well. I thought we responded and we were very resilient."
Down 51-50 with 5:02 remaining in the second half, Feder drained a trey to put the Tritons up, 53-51. UCSD held a lead the rest of the way, pushing it to as many as eight points at 66-58 with five ticks left on the clock.
Cal State L.A. battled to the end and had a solid chance to tie the game late. With UCSD up by just two, 59-57, with 40 seconds left in the game, Feder had the ball stolen from her by Chiara DiMarco. DiMarco missed her layup and Najera was called for a foul on the ensuing rebound for going over-the-back. Triton point guard Miranda Seto made both free throws to put UCSD up 61-57 with 34 seconds left. Williams was fouled on the Eagles' next possession and made one of two free throws, getting her team back within three points. However, Seto was sent back to the line with 15 seconds remaining and she calmly nailed both free throws to push the Tritons' lead to five, 63-58.
The Golden Eagles had a nine-point lead several times in the first half, the last coming at the 7:31 mark when a layup by Richelle Najera made the score 23-14. The Tritons tied it at 24-24 when Dautremont hit a jumper at 3:35. However, two free throws at 3:05 gave the lead back to Cal State L.A. and the Eagles stayed ahead for the rest of the half, leading by four, 30-26, at the break.
UCSD held a 43-35 advantage on the boards.
"I thought people stepped up and hit some big shots down the stretch and we've been playing better team basketball as of late, and that was huge for us," said Feder. "We could have boxed out a little better tonight and our help defense could have been better, so those are things that we'll work on going into next week."
The Tritons also won both regular season match-ups with the Golden Eagles; 70-49 in La Jolla and 68-58 in Los Angeles.
UCSD, the tourney's second seed, improved to 22-10 with the win, while fourth-seeded Cal State L.A. ended its season at 21-11.
It was UCSD's second appearance in a CCAA Tournament championship game, the first coming in 2008. Cal State L.A. was also vying for its first league tourney title after making the final in 1988, 1991 and 2012.
The NCAA West Regional site, field and pairings will be announced Sunday at 7 p.m. (PT). The selection show will be streamed live at NCAA.com.
"Our team has done a great job all year of taking it one game at a time," said VanDerveer. "Right now we will enjoy this win, take a day off tomorrow and prepare like we always do. This team does a great job of preparing, so I'm sure whoever we play, we'll do the best we can. We're very excited to represent the CCAA in the Regional."
"It doesn't matter who we play, we just have to come out and play strong," said Dautremont.
UCSD hosted last season's West Regional, defeating Chico State and Western Washington before bowing out in the championship game to Alaska-Anchorage.
"It's going to be hard no matter what, we have a tough region," said Feder. "Going into it, we're just going to look to play our hearts out and do our best and fight. If we play to our full potential, then we know that we'll come out on top."
-- UCSDtritons.com --