Through the first 25 games of the season, Cal State Stanislaus would have lost Saturday night’s game.
The Warriors just did not have the firepower to withstand a perimeter shooting onslaught like the one brought into Fitzpatrick Arena by Cal State Monterey Bay.
But while the Otters were drilling three-point shots at remarkable 13-for-24 clip, Stanislaus was taking care of business at its end, reaching a season-high in scoring with an 84-78 victory in the regular-season finale.
“It was an end-of-the-year game with not a lot riding on the outcome, and the guys were pretty loose,” Warriors coach Larry Reynolds said. “Maybe we were a little too loose at times.”
All that really was at stake was the color of uniform Stanislaus will wear in the first round of the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. The Warriors, who won their final three regular-season games, will be the home team Thursday and the No. 4 seed against No. 5 seed UC San Diego – a team Stanislaus beat twice this season. A loss could have dropped Stanislaus to No. 5.
Tipoff is set for 5:35 p.m. at Stockton Arena, a venue that gives the Warriors (17-10 overall, 14-8 CCAA) a chance to bring a crowd. If you believe in omens, here’s one. Last year, when Stanislaus claimed its first CCAA title, it also went into the postseason as the No. 4 seed.
It’s probably good the Warriors will not be facing the Otters (13-15, 9-13) in Stockton with the problems the Monterey shooters presented. In the first meeting Jan. 23, the Otters blitzed Stanislaus 80-60. Monterey finished seventh in the conference – the first team out.
They came close to putting on another winning shooting clinic in the rematch, with 6-foot-7 forward Greg Anderson closing his college career with a 32-point effort on 12-of-17 shooting. Four field goals came from behind the arc to lead Monterey’s long-range barrage.
“Every team we play seems to have their best shooting night against us, and I have to take my hat off to them for playing great but we just stuck it out,” said Stanislaus guard Chris Read, who led the Warriors with 22 points.
But the constant heat from the Monterey offense was starting to get to Stanislaus. The Warriors led nearly the entire game but never were in a position to get comfortable.
“We were able to stay in it and keep them from getting second-chance points where they did miss threes,” said Rob Walters, who tallied 14 points and 14 rebounds. “It’s good that we’re getting our offense going because we’ve been in a long rut.”
Stanislaus led by nine at halftime, and despite not being able to pull away, the Warriors’ offensive efficiency kept Monterey from ever taking a lead. In addition to the outputs of Read and Walters, Shey Mataele scored 13 points and the Warriors finished 30 for 57 (52.6 percent) from the floor.
Mataele, as one of the key players in last year’s title run, is completely aware of the kind of effort it’s going take to repeat.
“Yep, we’re the number 4 seed again, and last year we went into the tournament with three or four wins in a row,” Mataele said. “It’s looking like last year, so hopefully we can come out and do the same thing.”
Stanislaus 82, Monterey Bay 46 – As soon as Briana Cotton scored her first points, she made a quick turn toward the bench for a smile and to point at assistant coach Cristin Gowan, the person she had just passed for fifth place on the school’s scholarship-era career scoring list.
There’s no denying Cotton’s place in the program’s history. She’s the last connection to a program at a low point, finishing her freshman year as one of six players on the Warriors’ roster.
“It was tough early with a lot of ups and downs, but we have a great coach and we’ve worked really hard for him,” said Cotton, who finished with 961 career points. “He turned the program around. We won a couple games my first season, and now we’re winning double-digit games.”
The Warriors finished 8-18 overall and 6-16 in the CCAA and out of the top six that qualify for the conference tournament.
Third-year coach Wayman Strickland, while disappointed in the record, remains upbeat about the program. Cotton was the lone senior on the roster, and he remembered her positive attitude throughout his building process.
“Some coaches get to step into situations where there are big shoes to fill,” Strickland said. “I stepped into a situation where there were no shoes. I’m proud of Bri and her steadfast quiet leadership. She’s one of the reasons this program has showed steady progress.”
The season finale certainly was upbeat, as the Warriors blitzed the Otters (7-20, 5-17) early and never let up, recording their largest margin of victory in a CCAA game since defeating Cal State Los Angeles by 48 in 1998.
“It’s rare you get to finish a season on a high note, although it’s unfortunate we’re not going into our tournament,” Strickland said.
Stanislaus capped the season by placing five players in double figures. Camille Roberts scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half, Cotton finished with 14, Aleseana Whitney 12 and Jasmine Washington and Cassidy Sanders-Curry 10 apiece.
And afterward, Cotton – who plans to graduate next year with a degree in kinesiology – reflected back on her four years as a Warrior.
“It does seem like a long time ago, but I feel like I just started playing – not like a senior who is done,” Cotton said. “It’s a crazy thing to wrap my mind around.”