After defeating Chico State to advance to the second round of the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, Cal Poly Pomona’s women’s basketball team couldn’t get the job done against Cal State Dominguez Hills, losing 67-61.
It was a hard-fought battle as the Broncos managed to keep up with the No. 6 ranked team in the country all night.
Coach Danelle Bishop’s main focus was to limit turnovers as much as possible and pointed out one area that could have given CPP a trip to the championship game.
“If we make our free throws, we might have won the game,” said Bishop. “They are a really good team, and at the end of the day, we got outmatched size wise, and it affected us down the stretch.”
The Toros came out aggressively, as they scored within five seconds of the opening tip. Dominguez Hills’ offense managed to pull away early, leading10-2 with 7:32 left in the first quarter.
Bishop said her team knew to expect traps and full court presses coming into the game, as that has made them successful all year.
The Broncos got a huge spark off the bench from forward Donja Payne in a game where she led the team in scoring with 15 points to go along with nine rebounds. With Payne scoring eight first quarter points, CPP avoided being down by double digits headed into the second quarter of play but still trailed 12-20.
The second quarter is where things turned around for the Broncos. Within less than 20 seconds of checking into the game, guard Sydney Fedinec knocked down a deep triple to cut the deficit to five. CPP got another three from shooter Breanne Ha to make it a one possession game.
Another player who stepped up in 39 minutes of action was sophomore guard Kalaya Buggs.
Buggs stuffed the stat sheet playing with an injured quad and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. In what might have been the final game of her first full CPP season, Buggs wanted to help lead the team as much as possible.
“It was important for me to stay composed,” said Buggs. “They were bigger, faster and stronger, so we had to be smarter out there, and I did my best to create opportunities for my teammates just to make their job a little easier. I made sure to keep my calm out there even though they are really aggressive.”
Headed into the second half down four, the Broncos already exceeded expectations against one of the best Division II teams in the country. Payne noted the team did not match the Toros’ aggressiveness in the first half and needed to reply going into the second half.
“We came out slower than usual,” said Payne. “We needed to really implement being more aggressive on the boards and basically do a better job on both defense and offense in the second half.”
The start of the second half was a repeat of the beginning of the first half. The Toros got off and running, as they quickly went up by double digits with 8:14 to go in the third quarter. Ha stopped the Broncos scoring drought with a 3 to bring them within seven. This set up a 9-0 scoring run for CPP, and they were now down 38-39.
CPP soon drew the Toros into foul trouble as Payne got fouled with 1:41 left in the third quarter. She went 1-2 from the line and gave the Broncos their first lead of the night.
On the next possession, Dominguez Hills scored in just under five seconds off the missed throw with a layup from guard Danyell Booker.
The Broncos headed into the fourth quarter down by four again. Bishop told Buggs and her teammates not to force anything and to remain confident in order to keep battling to keep up with Toros aggressiveness known to show up in the fourth all year.
Buggs kicked off the final period with a 3 to bring the Broncos within one. A crucial loss for the Broncos emerged after Payne fouled out of the game, as she picked up three fouls in just the fourth quarter alone.
Payne didn’t realize she picked up five fouls with 2:20 left to go and knew there was only one thing she could do moving forward.
“I just had to cheer on my team,” said Payne. “Every time we had a timeout or one of teammates was sitting next to me, I just told them, ‘Don’t give up. Keep going and whatever happens, happens.’”
With the Broncos down six with under two minutes remaining, they could not buy a bucket as the Toros brought the defensive pressure and held them scoreless until there was just three seconds left on the game clock. The horn sounded and Dominguez Hills came away with the win, ending CPP’s hopes of winning the CCAA tournament.
After the game, Bishop knew that nothing is guaranteed for them to play in the West Region of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II tournament next week.
Bishop also thanked the seniors for all they did for the program if they didn’t make the tournament. She wanted to focus on the fight that the team gave rather than the loss to continue empowering them.
“I just told them how proud I was of them,” said Bishop. “Our seniors are amazing people and are going to do big things in life, and it’s important to get everyone mentally refocused if there is an opportunity to play again next week.”