There may be no “I” in team, but there is in win and Wed. night, senior guard Courtney Clements propelled the San Diego State women’s basketball team to victory.
Clements recorded a career-high 31 points in 30 minutes of play. She shot 10-17 from the field, including 7-10 from three point range.
“In hindsight, I’ll have nightmares about Clements and her 31 points,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We [even] went a few possessions with a triangle and two, but she’s a good player. Once you let someone knock down a couple, they shoot with a lot of confidence. We had no answer for her.”
Behind Clements, the Aztecs handily defeated UCSB 69-46 in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at Viejas Arena. With the loss, the season officially comes to an end for the Gauchos.
Santa Barbara finished the season at 16-17 overall while San Diego St. improved to 27-6. The 27 victories mark the most in program history for a single season.
“They’re good; I’m going to give them credit,” Mitchell said. “They played with a chip tonight and shot lights out. There’s nothing more you can say but they’re bigger, stronger and quicker. That’s the reality of it. I think our kids competed, but sometimes it’s just not your night and tonight was definitely not ours.”
Despite the blowout, there was one huge bright spot for UCSB. Senior forward Sweets Underwood, who was held to just four points in the semifinals against Cal Poly, was looking for a better way to end her season. She entered Wednesday’s matchup with 999 points and wasted no time hitting the 1,000 point mark, nailing a jump shot less than three minutes into the game. She becomes the 24th Gaucho to enter the prestigious 1,000 point club.
Underwood accounted for half of the Gauchos’ points, finishing with a career-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
“I’m extremely proud of Sweets because I knew with the competitor she was, she was going to have a hard time staying in her skin for the next few weeks knowing the way she ended at Cal Poly,” Mitchell said. “That wasn’t the way she’s played all year long. I can smile now knowing she’s going to feel better about that.”
The Aztecs set the tone from the beginning, playing with a chip on their shoulder after feeling like they deserved to make the NCAA Tournament. They never trailed in the game. On the very first possession, even with a defender right on her, Clements drained a three to give SDSU a 3-0 advantage.
In fact, Clements had an answer every time the Gauchos tried to make a run. She scored 10 of her team’s first 12 points and with SDSU up 15-12, Clements knocked down a three which sparked a 12-0 run for the Aztecs.
“We can’t allow one person to get lose,” Underwood said. “We couldn’t find a weapon to stop her and she hit everything tonight. That was the most difficult part. We were staying down, we would have a hand in their face and they would just it. It was her night tonight.”
Meanwhile, UCSB’s offense became stagnant as the team went on a 7:42 scoring draught.
The Gauchos entered halftime down 40-20. While UCSB is known for its defense, it had no answer for San Diego St., which shot 52.6 percent in the half, including 53.8 percent from behind the arc. In addition, with 21 points at halftime, Clements outscored UCSB on her own.
To open the second half, the Aztecs continued to widen the gap, going up by 24 points. However, with a huge hole to climb out of, UCSB finally made a push to get back in the game. With 15:36 to go, junior guard Destini Mason hit a jumper to spark a 7-0 run. Mason was the only other player for Santa Barbara in double figures, tallying 10 points.
“We knew we had to buckle down on defense,” Mason said. “We were there in their face and they knocked down some pretty hard shots, but we knew we got here with defense. We got some stops and tried to push it in transition.”
In the first nine and a half minutes of the final period, the Gauchos outshot the Aztecs 41.7 percent to 23.1 percent.
Unfortunately for Santa Barbara, the run did subside and it could do no better than trade baskets with San Diego St. the rest of the game. UCSB did play SDSU nearly even in the second half though, as the Aztecs only outscored the Gauchos 29-26.
Similar to the semifinal against Cal Poly, UCSB was executing on the offensive end, but could not get its shots to fall. The team shot just 33.3 percent from the field.
“Coach at one point had to call a timeout and she told us to just relax and hit open shots,” Underwood said. “I think we were just a bit frazzled because they were hitting everything and we were thinking too much into our offense. We had to relax and be confident because they were open for us as well.”
While the box score doesn’t reflect it, the Gauchos didn’t play poorly. The Aztecs were simply the superior team on that night.
“I think we came out to really play,” Mason said. “We played pretty good defense; they were just knocking down some really good shots. As a team, this is a better way to go out than against Cal Poly. For the seniors, you didn’t want them to go out that way. I’m glad the seniors got the opportunity to play one more time.”
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.