Basketball / Sports

Big West previews

Cal Poly

After a record-breaking 21 win season, a Big West Tournament Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team is once again the team to beat.

The notion was further confirmed earlier this season when the Mustangs were selected to finish first in the Big West in the Preseason Media Poll, earning 17 of the 20 first place votes.

“It’s a great compliment, and we appreciate that there’s so many people that have high regard for our program and our team,” Head Coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I think we’re a little overrated at this stage from the performance of where the team’s at currently, but I hope we can live up to that billing.”

While Cal Poly currently stands at 6-7 overall, the team’s record is deceiving as the Mustangs have played incredible opponents during the preseason, taking on Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and St. Mary’s.

“Like many teams in the Big West, we’ve tried to have really top competition in our preseason to try to play us for the great conference play that we expect,” Mimnaugh said. “You see what top 25 looks like and what size looks like.”

Defeating Cal Poly will require great defense because this team knows how to put points on the board. The Mustangs lead the Big West in points per game at 74.9 while ranking second in field goal percentage and three*point percentage at 40.9 and 32.2 percent, respectively.

The Mustangs’ biggest offensive threat is down low in 6’5’’ senior center Molly Schlemer, the reigning Big West Player of the Year. Schlemer ranks third in the conference in scoring with 17.8 points per game and first in rebounding at 10.8 per contest. Her 54.7 percent shooting from the field also tops the league.

“Molly Schlemer is a big reason for our success,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s pretty money when she gets the ball in her hands, and her teammates are always looking for her.”

Yet, Schlemer is one of several options for Cal Poly, who also returns two All-Big West honorable mention selections from last year in junior guard Ariana Elegado and senior guard Jonae Ervin. Elegado currently averages 15.5 points and 4.6 assists per game, which ties for first in conference, while Ervin adds 10.8 points and 4.5 assists, good enough for third in the Big West.

“Both Jonae and Ariana picked up where they left off last year,” Mimnaugh said. “Jonae is one of the top assist to turnover people, so the ball is pretty safe in her hands. Ariana is a tremendous creator. We’ve got some littles that are entertaining.”

Cal Poly’s next game is Saturday when it hosts UCSB.

 

Hawaii

The Hawaii women’s basketball team is on a mission to redeem itself after last year’s disappointing second-round exit in the Big West Tournament.

Last season, the Rainbow Wahine finished with a 13-5 record in the Big West in large part to its efficiency on offense and defense; the team finished third both in scoring offense (61.1) and scoring defense (56.2). Despite earning a third place seed in the conference tournament, Hawaii was upset in the quarterfinal stage by Cal State Fullerton, the lowest-seeded team in the field.

After nine months of lingering on that loss, the Rainbow Wahine are back with arguably the most dominant player in the Big West in senior forward Kamilah Jackson. Jackson is coming off a year where she was third in the league in points (15.5) and rebounds (9.7). It was the third straight season she led the team in points and rebounds.

This year, Jackson was selected to the Preseason All-Big West team and has picked up where she left off last year. Averaging 16.7 points to go along with 10.0 rebounds, she has already amassed seven double-doubles. Jackson will have to be Hawaii’s best player on the court if it plans to advance further in the postseason.

Hawaii enters conference play with an even record after losing and winning six games during its nonconference schedule. Yet, the team was picked to finish second in the Big West preseason media poll.

The Rainbow Wahine has been victim to tough losses so far, losing to No. 24 Arizona by an 84-44 margin and against USC 66-55, where Jackson was held to just five points.

However, the Rainbow Wahine has also come away with impressive nonconference results. Hawaii has defeated opponents from the Pac-12, SEC and Big 10 during the run-up to the conference opener against Cal Poly, showing potential of its capability to win the Big West title this season.

Currently, Hawaii has not been as statistically efficient on offense as compared to last season as it ranks near the bottom of the league in points scored (64.8), while the team’s defense has kept them afloat; the team is second in points allowed (66.2). Still, Hawaii will have to have a balanced attack if they are to become serious contenders.

Hawaii begins conference play with its first two games at home, taking on Cal State Northridge Saturday.

 

Cal State Northridge

The Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team had a rough start to its season, going 4-10 in non-conference play, but it is a serious contender to take the Big West.

In the Big West preseason media poll, the Matadors were selected to finish third place in the conference standings.

With one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big West, the Matadors saw extremely tough competition, taking on BYU, Washington State, Saint Mary’s and Oregon. While this gave CSUN many losses, the team also earned quality victories over incredible competition, earning a one-point victory over Pac-12 USC and a 12 point win over a talented Northern Arizona squad.

“I don’t think there is anything we cannot improve on,” Head Coach Jason Flowers said. “We have to play with consistency and a focused mentality on every possession.”

Playing such stiff competition, out of the nine teams in the Big West, offensively CSUN is eighth in shooting percentage, seventh points per game and eighth in three point shooting percentage.

However, offense isn’t really Northridge’s bread and butter anyway. Under Flowers, the Matadors have proved a scrappy defensive team, ranking second in the Big West in steals with 9.6 per game.

A young team in previous years, Northridge now features a core of upperclassmen.

Among the Matadors, 5’5” junior guard Cinnamon Lister leads all scorers with 15.9 points per game. Junior guard Ashlee Guay also adds 14.3 points per game to give Northridge a respectable one-two punch.

Shouldering the load of providing the post presence could be up to 6’3” sophomore center Bernadette Fong and 6’2” junior center Camille Mahlknecht. After averaging 5.2 and 6.4 rebounds per game, respectively, in the first half of the season, the Matadors will look for them to approach double digits. 6’2” senior forward Mikayla Thielges actually leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, but spends too much time around the perimeter to be counted on as the team’s primary board collector.

Nevertheless, Mahlknecht gives the Matadors a serious defensive presence inside, easily topping the conference in blocks per game at 2.6.

“If we focus on the process and approach the season one day at a time, one possession at a time, then the results will follow,” Flowers said.

Northridge begins conference play today with a visit to UC Davis.

 

Long Beach State

The Long Beach State women’s basketball team enters the New Year with the best overall record in the conference at 8-6. After a middle-of-the-road 2013 campaign in which they finished with a 16-16 overall and 9-9 conference record, good for fifth place, the 49ers were predicted to finish fourth in this year’s preseason media poll.

“We’re getting better every week and finding more continuity,” Head Coach Jody Wynn said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of players coming in and out of the lineup due to sickness or injury, but I’m happy with our effort and our focus level that we’ve had throughout the preseason and the way we competed game in and game out.”

Despite losing three of last season’s starters, Long Beach has not been slowed down by its consistent lineup changes. Although she has only started six games, freshman guard Raven Benton has impressed with team-high averages of 14.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as well as a 47.7 field goal percentage.

“I’ve been very pleased with how quickly Raven has adapted to the college level,” Wynn said. “She is not afraid of contact, so she’s able to get in there and fight for rebounds and she’s a natural born scorer. I always knew she had the potential to be a very good player for us.”

Another young player making an impact for the 49ers is freshman guard Anna Kim, who leads her team with a 38.9 three-point percentage and 1.93 steals per game.

A strong core of veterans has anchored a balanced Long Beach offensive attack that is averaging a solid 70 points per game. Junior guard Alex Sanchez has the team’s second highest scoring average with 11.2 points per game, while junior guard Hallie Meneses is averaging 8.0 points per game, team-highs of 4.1 assists per game and a 92.6 free throw percentage.

“We’ve got a good strong core group of juniors that have multiple years of experience and with that being said our freshmen have been thrown into the fire right away,” Wynn said. “Anna Kim has certainly made an impact right away at the point guard position. We rotate lineups a lot; nothing is set in stone [at this point].”

The 49ers are not particularly intimidating in the middle, but junior forward Ella Clark has averaged 1.64 blocks and 8.0 points per game.

“The Big West has more parity than it’s ever had, so game in and game out it’s going to be a dogfight,” Wynn said. “It’s going to be a battle of will down the stretch of a lot of games.”

With a strong, balanced offense, a confident start and a good mix of young and veteran players, Long Beach could very easily go beyond its preseason prediction and challenge for the Big West title.

The 49ers begin conference play tonight against UC Irvine.

 

UC Davis

With preseason play behind them, the UC Davis women’s basketball team boasts a young roster with veteran experience. Despite only having one returning senior, the Aggies possess key players such as junior forward Sydnee Fipps and sophomore guard Molly Greubel that will help to lead the team in this upcoming conference season.

The Aggies ended the non-conference portion of their season with an overall record of 5-8.

UC Davis women’s basketball was picked to finish sixth by the Big West preseason media poll. The Aggies earned 72 points from media members and were placed ahead of Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine and lastly UC Riverside.

The Aggies finished 12-18 overall last season, 7-11 in the Big West and were defeated in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament. This first round knock out was unusual for a team that has been to the Big West Championship half of its first six years in the league. Head Coach Jennifer Gross will return for her third season with hopes of taking her team all the way.

The Aggies biggest asset towards hopes at a championship finish lies with Fipps. Fipps, a first-team All-Big West selection as a sophomore in 2012-13, earned all-conference honors in the preseason poll after starting all 30 games for the Aggies last season, averaging a team-high 17.1 points (second in the conference) and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting .443 from the floor, .319 from three-point range and .817 from the line.

Her preseason performance was nothing short of this, tallying her second-straight double-double in their final game against Simpson University.

Another promising player for this upcoming season is Gruebel. Despite her young age, Gruebel has demonstrated maturity and confidence on the court. She had a career night against Pacific with three assists, three steals and career high 18 points. In addition, she contributed two of the Aggies’ total five three-pointers.

This Aggie team has knowledge working on their side. With a veteran team, and returning coaching staff they should be able to build upon what they have accomplished in preseason and work towards another shot at the Big West Conference.

UC Davis’ first conference matchup will be tomorrow, Jan. 9, against Cal State Northridge.

 

UC Irvine

With Big West play set to begin, the UC Irvine women’s basketball team has high hopes.

At 7-7 overall, the season thus far has been somewhat surprising for the Anteaters. Although predicted to finish eighth in the Big West preseason media poll, if the season were to end right now, Irvine would find itself in second place in conference.

Irvine currently ranks second in the Big West in scoring and rebounding, averaging 71.0 points and 43.0 rebounds per game. The Anteaters also place second in conference from behind the arc, shooting 31.5 percent.

Senior forward Camille Buckley has been the Anteaters’ most significant contributor thus far, averaging 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest, good enough for third in the Big West. She shoots an impressive 48.1 from the field and has contributed a team-high 21 steals this season.

Also a huge benefit to the team has been senior guard Jennifer Tsurumoto, who is averaging 13.4 points and 3.2 assists for Irvine. Then there is junior guard Madison McKenney, who leads the league in three-point percentage at 41.7 percent.

The Anteaters have been dominant at the Bren Center in Irvine and are undefeated at home at 3-0. Through their undefeated home stance, UC Irvine has beaten South Dakota, New Mexico State and La Verne College.

In Irvine’s latest game against La Verne, the Anteaters dismantled their opponent 90-53. Senior forward Jasmine Bernard led Irvine with a career-high 24 points and eight rebounds. The Anteaters 37-point victory was their largest since 1999.

Irvine will open conference play today at Long Beach State.

 

Cal State Fullerton

“Our goal is to compete night in and night out to give our team the chance to win the Big West,” Head Coach Daron Park said. “The goal for our team, as well as every team, should be to end the season cutting the net down from the hoop.”

Led by junior guard Chante Miles, the Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball team has a 4-9 record heading into conference play. Miles leads the team with 15 points per game, along with 4.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

With four returning starters, the Titans have experience to build on their 11-22 record last season. Last year, Fullerton made it all the way to the Big West semifinal against the odds, almost overcoming Pacific to make the final.

This season, the Titans were selected to finish seventh in the Big West, making them the underdogs once again.

First-year coach Park brings intelligence from many different programs as he was Associate Head Coach at USC last year, and Assistant coach at California the year before that.

“Every day when we come to practice, we make sure to work on the little things,” Park said. “If we can do the little things and compete for every ball then we always give ourselves the chance to win.”

While just 4-9, Fullerton has faced still competition in the preseason as they played San Diego, Arizona St. and Seattle.

“The difficult non-conference schedule has made us prepared for conference play,” Park said.

Fullerton begins conference play tonight against UC Riverside.

 

UC Riverside

With its preseason record in pattern with that of the last two years, the UC Riverside women’s basketball team lands itself tied for eighth place going into Big West conference play.

“We are very much younger than some of the other teams in the conference, having only one senior,” Head Coach John Margaritis said. “The more experience you have, the more advantages you have.”

While the young Highlanders’ team continues to struggle to support the weight of the legacy that the 2011 conference champion team left behind, the team’s current 4-9 preseason record leaves Riverside toward the back of the pack.

“The conference has changed, we’ve had a lot of injuries the last couple of years and we have a different team than the one that we won with,” Margaritis said.

Despite the loss of older players in recent seasons, Riverside is home of guard Brittany Crain, returning for her sophomore year after being named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year. She is currently ranked first in the league in average points and steals per game and is ranked fifth in the league for field goal percentage. Crain averages a 49.7 field goal percentage, and averages 18.9 points and 2.2 steals per game.

In addition, sophomore guard Annelise Ito is ranked fourth in the league for overall rebounds, and leads the team in both offensive and defensive rebounds, averaging 7.3 total per game in her first year playing for the Highlanders.

While individually, Riverside has many strong players, as a team they average 18.8 turnovers per game and only 6.9 steals. With little defensive recovery contributed by much of the team, Riverside isn’t able to put up the points to win games.

“The conference is well coached, and there are many good teams and players,” Margaritis said. “You play one game at a time and see where you are.”

Riverside will start their conference season at home against Cal State Fullerton today.

 

Versions of these articles appeared on pages 8 and 9 of January 9th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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