By Bryan Stauffer
And just like that, it was all over.
The Cal Poly Pomona women’s basketball team’s near five-month grind toward a record sixth national championship was cut short on Wednesday after the team suffered a 77-62 loss to Bentley in the Division II Semifinals.
With the win, the top-ranked Bentley Falcons improved to 34-0 on the season and earned a slot in the NCAA Division II National Championship game on Friday against West Texas A&M, where they edged out the Lady Buffs, 73-65, to finish the season as undefeated national champions.
The Broncos played a forgettable first half against the Falcons, shooting 29 percent en route to 20 first half points. The CPP defense kept them in the game in the early going, however, holding the high-powered Bentley offense, which came in averaging 81.9 points per game, to 29 points in the opening 20 minutes.
CPP’s offense came alive in the second half and more than doubled its scoring output from the opening half, putting 42 points on the board to keep pace with the efficient shooters of Bentley.
Although the Broncos’ offense played exceptionally in the second half, knocking down 5-11 from three-point range and shooting 14-35 from the field, Bentley displayed good ball movement to continuously find the open shooter. It drew 22 team fouls from CPP, which resulted in an 18-23 showing from the charity stripe.
The Broncos pulled to within two points of Bentley with 18 minutes remaining after senior guard J.J. Judge knocked down a three pointer to cut the deficit to 32-30, but Bentley never surrendered the lead in the second half.
“It’s unfortunate it wasn’t our greatest night tonight,” said head coach Danelle Bishop. “I told the team there’s more to life than basketball. People may not remember this game, but they definitely will remember our team.”
CPP finished the season with a record of 26-7, its best record since 2010-11.
Junior center Jada Blackwell, a Division II All-American and West Region Player of the Year, capped off an impressive season with 22 points and six rebounds in the loss. Blackwell finished the season with 620 points, the fifth-highest season total in program history. Judge totaled 10 points in her last game as a Bronco.
Bentley entered the contest as one of the most experienced and dominant women’s basketball programs in the country over the last four years. Their starting unit, headed by three-time All-America forward Lauren Battista, boasted five seniors who had started 493 total games; they had gone 123-11 over that span.
CPP topped No. 25 Edinboro in the Elite Eight, 81-61, to move on to the round of four, behind one of their best offensive and defensive showings of the season. The Broncos held a slim five-point lead heading into the break, but after a 15-26 shooting performance in the second half CPP pulled away with a 20-point win. Edinboro shot just 36.4 percent from the field for the game compared to CPP’s 53.8 percent shooting effort.
Blackwell led all scorers with 35 points, tying her career-high set against Chico State in round two of the West Regionals. Junior forward Ashley Lovett and Judge each recorded double-digit scoring marks with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
For the tournament, the Broncos had three players average at least 10 PPG: Blackwell, a team-high 28.5 PPG, Judge, 11.5 PPG, and Lovett, 10 PPG. Lovett averaged a double-double in the two games after hauling in nine rebounds against Edinboro and 11 more against Bentley.
The Broncos fought their way to the Elite Eight in Erie, Pa. by winning the West Regional tournament as the region’s top seed. CPP knocked off Alaska Anchorage in round one, 60-56, CCAA rival CSUC in round two, 89-80, and Montana State Billings in the regional championship, 75-68.
Three Broncos were named to the All-Tournament Team: Blackwell, 26 PPG and 7.6 rebounds per game, junior guard Ariel Marsh, 18.3 PPG, and Lovett, who averaged 10 PPG and a team-high 12.3 RPG.
“We have so many offensive weapons and we have so many defensive weapons,” said Marsh following the West Regional Championship. “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.”
The 2013-14 season was a remarkable one for the Broncos, who earned their second West Region title in four years, won the regular season CCAA title, and boasted the CCAA and West Region Player and Coach of the Year and two All-Americans.
Blackwell became the 13th Bronco to earn conference Player of the Year honors and was also named the West Region Player of the Year after leading the Broncos to 21-5 regular season record. Bishop became the first CPP coach since 2002 to take home the CCAA Coach of the Year honor and shortly thereafter was named the region’s Coach of the Year.
Not only were Blackwell and Bishop named the Player and Coach of the Year in the West Region, but the two are also up for the 2014 Russell Athletic/WBCA NCAA Division II National Player and Coach of the Year.
The recipients will be named during the fourth annual WBCA Awards Show on Monday, April 7 as a part of the WBCA National Convention.
To round out an impressive year of personal achievements, Blackwell became the 20th Bronco in program history to be named a Division II All-American.
Shifting the focus to academics, Marsh joined 14 other Division II student-athletes on the Academic All-America Second Team. Marsh, who posts a 3.96 cumulative grade point average, is in pursuit of a Master’s of Science degree in Regenerative Studies after earning her undergraduate degree in Communication last June.
CPP will return all but one player, Judge, next season. With the nucleus of the team still in tact for at least one more year, the Broncos will come back hungrier than ever after falling one game shy of appearing in their ninth national championship.
“”We definitely want to be back here next year,” said Bishop. “We have everyone returning but one, so that’s exciting and something for us to look forward to.”
Broncos’ season ends with Final Four finish
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