By Bryan Stauffer
With her team trailing 40-34 at halftime against second-seeded Montana State Billings in the West Region Championship, head coach Danelle Bishop knew her team had to regain focus if it planned on advancing to the Elite Eight.
MSU-Billings had shot 58 percent in the first half, including 46 percent from beyond the arc, while limiting the Broncos to just 11-26 from the floor.
Although the Yellowjackets played well on both ends of the floor in the opening half, Bishop said it was more about what the Broncos did not execute that led to the deficit.
“We just weren’t playing Bronco basketball to our ability,” said Bishop. “I felt like it was too easy for them. Give them credit. They’re good scorers, but they were shooting high-percentage shots inside the paint that were too easy.”
CPP locked down on defense and played inspired in the second half, outscoring the Yellowjackets 41-28 in the final 20 minutes of play, and went on to earn its second West Region Championship in four years.
The next stop for the Broncos (25-6) will be in Erie, Pa., where they will take on Atlantic Region champion Edinboro (27-5) on March 25. The Elite Eight will be hosted by Gannon University at Erie Insurance Arena.
Of the eight teams traveling to Elite Eight, CPP will have the most distance to travel ” 2,400 miles.
The Broncos currently have 54 NCCAA postseason victories, the third-highest total in Division II history; with three more victories the Broncos will take home their sixth national title in school history.
Edinboro will have a tough time matching up with junior center Jada Blackwell, the West Region Player of the Year. Blackwell had a phenomenal West Region tournament, averaging 26 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game en route to being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and to the All-Tournament Team.
“She’s a phenomenal player,” said Bishop. “She’s hard to guard. I don’t believe there is anybody in the West Region that has been able to contain her.”
Joining Blackwell on the All-Tournament Team was redshirt junior guard Ariel Marsh and junior forward Ashley Lovett.
Marsh averaged 18.3 PPG, knocking down eight three-pointers and going 15-18 from the line. Lovett averaged a double-double for the tournament with 10 PPG and a team-high 12.3 RPG.
In their comeback victory over the Yellowjackets, CPP had four scorers reach double digits: Blackwell, 20, Marsh, 19, Lovett, 11, and senior guard J.J. Judge, 10.
Marsh talked about how difficult it can be to guard the Broncos knowing that they have scorers and depth at nearly every position.
“We have so many offensive weapons and we have so many defensive weapons,” said Marsh. “I think that’s why were such a successful team and such a herd team to guard because if you take away one thing, were going to come at you with another person. I feel like we’re just a nightmare to defend.”
Judge is the lone Bronco left from the 2011 West Region Championship team, meaning the remaining eight players on the roster have no experience beyond that of the West Region Championships. Her familiarity with this stage could prove to be valuable to the Broncos, despite occupying a different role than she has had the past three seasons.
“[Judge’s] role has changed every year,” said Bishop. “For her to do whatever is best for the team, being selfless, that is just huge.”
That has been the mentality for the Broncos all year. Their selfless play, which has led to five Broncos averaging at least 7 PPG and three averaging at least 10, has kept opponents on their toes and allowed them to be dangerously effective from all areas of the court, stretching from the three-point line into the paint.
CPP earned its spot in the West Region Championships by defeating eighth-seeded Alaska Anchorage on Friday and fifth-seeded Chico State on Saturday.
The Broncos topped UAA, 60-56, behind a defense that held the Seawolves to just 30 percent from the field. Blackwell led all scorers with 23 points while Lovett and Marsh each recorded double digit scoring marks. CPP was active on the boards and outrebounded the Seawolves 44-37, which included 17 offensive boards.
After falling to CSUC twice in the regular season, the Broncos finally got the best of the Wildcats in the regional semifinals and won by nine, 89-80. Blackwell, who notched a career-high 35 points, and Marsh, who added 25 of her own, combined to score 60 of CPP’s 89 points. The Broncos shot 56 percent as a team and went 8-15 from three-point territory.
The Broncos will get some rest this week before heading off to Erie, Pa. for their Elite Eight match against Atlantic Region champion Edinboro on March 25.
Courtesy Tom Zasadzinski
CPP captures second West Region title in four years to move on to the Elite Eight
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