Watching the two semi-final games with the Lobos not playing was certainly not my preference. I would have much preferred seeing if UNM could beat Wyoming a third time, but since that was not to be, I sat there with a more objective view of the two games. I had no reason to root for or against any of them–while I would like to see Joe Legerski, a class act, win a tournament with Wyoming, I also appreciate Candice White as she ends her Fresno career, the effort SDSU has been playing with, and the quality of Boise’s play. I sat there thinking that any would be an acceptable champion. I would likely have felt different if UNLV were still alive–objectivity in journalism can only go so far.
The 1st semi-final: #1 Boise St 89, #4 Fresno St 77.
Both teams started off at a very fast pace, scoring almost at will. Fresno, which usually plays at a more middle speed pace, was keeping up with Boise early on, but would then fall back a little. It would seem that the faster legs of Boise were starting to take over–but then Fresno would go on a mini-run to erase the deficit.
While both teams were running, they were doing it in quite different ways. Boise had excellent ball movement on the perimeter and shot the three ball very effectively, going 12 for 27 for the night. They also had a +7 rebound advantage. Much of their offense looked almost effortless, though obviously it was not.
Fresno was far less effective outside (only 6 for 23), and instead attacked with contested drive after contested drive. And they drove very successfully–they were 23 for 36, and many were not easy shots. It constantly looked like they were on the verge of falling behind if their 60%+ two-point shooting slacked, but it never did. And the drives were getting Fresno to the free throw line more often, where that were 17 for 18 in the game. At least it didn’t fail until the end.
In the 4th quarter those shots stopped falling at a high rate for Fresno, and slowly the Boise lead expanded. Eventually Fresno was fouling to get the ball back, but Boise made their free throws and the margin widened to the eventual 11 point advantage. The game was far closer than that implied.
It was also an opportunity to watch two of the conference’s best players go at each other. Senior Marta Hermida had a career high 30 points along with 10 rebounds and 8 assists for Boise. Fresno senior Candice White, the MWC scoring leader, had a season high 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Boise will go for its third straight MWC title and 4th in 5 years tonight against Wyoming.
The 2nd semi-final: #3 Wyoming 75, #7 San Diego State 70 in OT.
The second game was as close as the first one, but a totally different style. If Boise-Fresno was a frenzied race, this was a brawl, and unfortunately it deteriorated into some of that at the end.
Nine starters played 34 minutes or more, and the physical nature of the game wore on them. It was not fast at any time, but by the end every shot was a struggle. The teams shot 40% in the first quarter, and under 30% by the 4th.
Wyoming started faster, trading three point baskets for twos to take a 7 point lead at the quarter, 17-10. But SDSU scored the first nine points of the second quarter to take a 19-17 lead. The lead exchanged hands back and forth the rest of the quarter, never more than three, and it was tied at 32 at intermission.
The third quarter saw a “huge” four point lead open up for WYO–it lasted 13 seconds. By the end of the third quarter the lead was 1 for Wyoming, and the game had been tied 11 times with almost countless lead changes.
By the 4th quarter, Cowgirl center and MWC defensive player of the year, Bailey Cotton, was starting to get the better of SDSU’s tandem centers. Not that she was scoring in huge numbers, but she was getting her points (mostly on free throws), rebounds, taking charges, and playing very physical D. SDSU’s Zayn Dornstauder was the object of much of Bailey’s clutching and leaning–and had picked up three fouls, some quite real, some Bailey-flops. The refs let the two of them shove and push all night, but SDSU felt they were getting the short end of it. Elbows–accidental or intentional I don’t know–started finding Bailey’s head with far too much frequency. Often away from the play, and leaving Cotton on the ground and no foul called. It was on the verge of getting ugly and out of control. The refs went to talk to the coaches twice, after which it settled down from thuggery to hard basketball.
With just under three minutes to go, Wyoming opened a five point lead, the biggest since the first quarter, but San Diego scored the next seven, going ahead by two on a Dornstauder (12 points, 10 rebounds) offensive rebound and putback with 19 seconds. Wyoming called time out, and ran a play for Erjavec (16 points) to drive. She missed the shot but was fouled, hit the two free throws with 5 seconds left, and the game went to OT.
In overtime, the defensive struggle became a shoot out. Wyoming truned away from the outside shots and started going into the paint more and outscored SDSU 17-12 in the five minute session. Marta Gomez closed things out on the free throw line, a perfect 10-10 as the Aztecs kept fouling her in the closing minute.