TURLOCK — Sometimes it hurts to watch Briana Cotton play basketball.
The junior guard at Cal State Stanislaus wears heavy rubber sleeves over both knees, just to keep them a little warmer as she battles through tendinitis.
But without those sleeves, except for a few limps and grimaces, few would know her malady. She hid it well Friday, scoring 21 points to help the Warriors end a four-game slide with a 72-63 victory over Cal State San Bernardino.
Cotton had 10 of her points during a 16-2 run midway through the second half that put the Warriors in control, 55-44, with 9:33 remaining.
Stanislaus, 11-8 overall and 8-7 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, would move back into sixth place with a home victory tonight against UC San Diego. What’s more, it would be the 500th win in the history of a program that is in its 38th season.
But those are goals for three weeks from now and perhaps a plaque to be engraved at the end of the season. The Warriors entered this next-to-last home weekend in desperate need of a victory, and the Coyotes (4-14, 3-12) were loathe to oblige.
Despite coming in with their own four-game slide, San Bernardino matched the Warriors’ intensity for 30 minutes, and stayed close despite the complete lack of an outside game.
The Coyotes missed all 13 of their three-point attempts, but held their own because of the driving of guards Alexcia Mack (15 points,) and Tayllor Gipson (13 points,) as well as the inside presence of Trinidee Trice (15 points, eight rebounds.)
They also managed to get Stanislaus in foul trouble, with center Lauren Godde and forward Jasmine Washington both going to the bench with three first-half fouls.
That made it even more important that Cotton – the lone third-year player in Wayman Strickland’s rotation – to step up for additional offensive chores.
So with San Bernardino leading 42-39 five minutes into the second half, Cotton went to work, scoring eight straight points to give the Warriors the lead for good and adding a fast break layup in what became the game-winning flurry.
“I’m just trying to make the defense play honest,” said Cotton, who played at Valley Christian High School in San Jose. “I’ve stepped into a bigger role, so I have to do more things to help the team score more – driving, shooting, whatever they need.”
For her first two years in the program, Cotton was mostly a spot shooter, a 3-point sniper on largely non-competitive teams. As this year’s team has emerged as a CCAA playoff contender, so has Cotton’s floor game.
“She added strength during the summer, she worked her butt off during our skill drills,” Strickland said. “When you set yourself up to shoot and people know you can shoot, it opens you up for the drives.
“Early in the year she was concentrating on getting to the basket and picked up some unnecessary travels. We’ve been telling her that there’s no need for her to lose confidence, since we don’t care if she misses five straight as long as they’re good shots for her. She took great shots tonight.”
Godde and Washington finished with 11 points apiece, but combined for only four rebounds as Stanislaus lost the battle of the boards 43-37.
But the only thing that mattered was the score at the end, which gave the Warrior women their first sweep of the Coyotes in 10 years. It didn’t hurt that the largest crowd of the season, bolstered by the students celebrating homecoming, was on hand to watch it.
“We went back to our roots with early aggressiveness, free play and some run-and-gun style,” Strickland said. “That’s the way we want to play and the extra energy we got from having the students here really helped.”