POMONA, Calif. — The Tritons were so, so close.
The University of California San Diego women’s basketball team was just about as close as you could possibly get to a conference tournament title on Saturday, but fell just short to Humboldt State, 76-75, in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Tournament championship game at Cal Poly Pomona’s Kellogg Arena.
Humboldt State guard Jovanah Arrington made a deep 3-pointer with one second remaining to put the Lumberjacks ahead by one, and senior Dalayna Sampton’s last-second turn-around jumper hit the front of the rim as time expired.
“My teammate did a good job of getting in the paint and drawing defenders,” said Arrington, who finished with nine points and six rebounds. “I didn’t know how to react. I was trying to keep my cool, but it was a great moment.”
Junior Kayla Sato and sophomore forward Mikayla Williams were both named to the CCAA All-Tournament Team, as was Arrington and junior forward Isamar Conde. Humboldt State sophomore guard Tyra Turner was named CCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, finishing with 18 points, four assists and four rebounds on Saturday.
Sato scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting, Williams recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds and Sampton had 11 points and a game-high 19 rebounds.
Junior Marcella Hughes’ baseline floater while fouled put the Tritons on top by five and Yang’s step-back 3-pointer seemingly put UC San Diego in control up 67-60 with 5:20 left.
But two quick Turner buckets with a steal sandwiched in between pulled Humboldt State within one, 72-71 with 57 seconds left, leading to Arrington’s late-game heroics.
“I think we learned a really tough lesson,” said UC San Diego head coach Heidi VanDerveer. “We’ve gotten away with things because we’ve been so good throughout the year. The wake-up call came in the first quarter when we weren’t in sync and didn’t play together.
“Humboldt State was playing for its (season) and that’s how things are going to be from now on.”
The Tritons trailed by as many as 12 in the first half, and when things looked bleak in the second quarter, senior guard Taylor Tanita dove after a loose ball on the floor and forced a jump ball. That ignited an 11-3 run to close the half, and the Tritons trailed by just four, 41-37, at intermission.
A Williams bucket inside off a nice pass from junior Joleen Yang cut the deficit to two just seconds into the third quarter and Sampton’s layup on a fastbreak tied it up 41-41.
Yang’s corner three off cross-court pass from Tanita put the Tritons ahead by three midway through the third, and Williams offensive rebound and bucket made it 49-46 with 4:40 to go in the third.
Sato’s corner three pushed the lead to six and Williams’ offensive rebound and putback gave UC San Diego its largest advantage of the night, 56-48.
The Tritons now await their NCAA Tournament fate, and will find out where they’ll head for next weekend’s West Regional during Sunday’s NCAA Selection Show beginning at 7 p.m. PT live on NCAA.com.