The perfect season continues. The UC San Diego Tritons women’s basketball team came into the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament over the weekend at the California State University, East Bay gym needing just three wins to get over the hump. The team had made back-to-back CCAA Tournament finals over the last two seasons, failing to secure wins in both.
This time was different.
UCSD had no reason to worry throughout its definitive 70–62 win over the rival California Polytechnic University, Pomona Mustangs on Saturday, March 9. Trailing at the end of the first quarter 18–17, the Tritons took the next three quarters to secure the win, which is the second in school history.
Both the men’s and women’s CCAA championship games featured UCSD taking on Cal Poly Pomona, and both Triton teams winning marked the first time a school has had two teams win the CCAA championship.
Juniors saved the day once again for the Tritons, just as they’ve done all season long. Junior forward Mikayla Williams, the team’s leading scorer this season, earned Tournament Most Valuable Player honors with her 70 points scored over the three-game tournament. The 6-foot-1-inch Williams scored a game-high 26 points, doubling Pomona’s leading scorer.
While the Tritons are a 3-point heavy team, Williams provides the balance needed to break down opposing defenses. Williams got to the free-throw line 14 times in the game, cashing in on 12 of them to supplement her 7-for-15 shooting from the field. Just as important as her points scored were her rebounds. Williams’ 14 total rebounds, and more impressively her 5 offensive rebounds, gave the Tritons the clear edge inside.
Three other players scored in double digits for UCSD. Junior guard Sydney Sharp dropped 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting, with all of her shots coming from behind the 3-point line. Senior guard Joleen Yang and junior forward Haleigh Hatfield each put up 10 points, with Hatfield adding 10 rebounds as well.
Uncharacteristically, the team only made 3-point shots in two of four quarters, missing all 7 of their second and fourth quarter attempts. But with Williams’ interior play and with the Tritons’ 10-point cushion heading into the fourth, the below-average shooting heading into halftime and the end of the game did little to throw the team out of their groove.
The team came into the tournament as the top seed, and thus got to play their first game of the tournament at home against the No. 8 California State University, San Francisco Gators on Tuesday, March 5 in front of a tiny home crowd. UCSD handled its business despite the poor attendance, creating their own energy and overcoming the pesky SFSU defense with an 87–36 win.
The Tritons’ closest game of the tournament was not the championship game, however. It was their next game, the semifinal matchup with the California State University, San Marcos Seawolves that forced double-overtime at RIMAC Arena in a 68–67 thriller back in January. This time the score was not so close, as UCSD took down the Seawolves 70–63. Williams scored 21 and senior guard Kayla Sato had her biggest game of the season with a 27-point, 10-rebound performance. With this win, the team got a chance to take on the Mustangs in the championship
The team will found out where they were be seeded in the NCAA Division II tournament on Sunday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m in the Green Room at RIMAC Arena. To great applause, the team was named the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Div. II West Region, and will be taking on Dominican University, the No. 8 seed in the region at RIMAC Arena on Friday, March 15.
The Tritons’ head coach Heidi VanDerveer described Dominican as a team of good shooters centered around one key scorer. “We’ve watched lots of film over the last few weeks on them,” said VanDerveer after the announcement, “We will be the most prepared team in the region.”
Hosting an NCAA Regional matchup is a great accomplishment, and the Tritons plan to use it to their advantage.
“The added pressure is really what you make of it,” said Williams on hosting a Regional. “We’re a very mature team that’s worked extremely hard, and there’s a hunger to win that we have no matter where we play.”
Playing in a Regional game is not a new experience for much of the Triton’s upperclassmen-led core. And this experience should help the top-seeded UCSD team remain above and beyond their competition.
“We’ve gotten really close as a team,” said Williams on how the team’s upperclassmen leaders have helped shape the team, “We’ve played in a couple regional games before, and we’ll just try to keep everyone calm and just stay together.”
The experience and leadership is something coach VanDerveer noticed and stressed as an advantage as well.
“They understand that you have to work really hard every day.” VanDerveer said of her team’s upperclassmen, “It’s all about their maturity and work ethic and understanding the big picture.”
Come cheer on the Tritons on Friday night in what promises to be one of the most exciting sporting events on campus this year.