Jeanette Fine notched 13 points for the Broncos despite playing just 18 minutes. | Cesar Rivas

Women’s basketball season concludes with courageous effort in NCAA tournament quarterfinals

By William Jack, March 19, 2024

Fighting through adversity, Cal Poly Pomona’s women’s basketball team saw its 2023-24 campaign end Friday, March 15 as they fell to the No. 16 Western Washington University Vikings with a final score of 61-66.

The game marked the Broncos’ exit from the National Collegiate Athletics Association Tournament, concluding their season with a commendable 20-10 overall record.

For much of the game the Broncos faced severe matchup problems, particularly with Western Washington forward Brooke Walling, forcing head coach Danelle Bishop to sub out star Bronco guard Andrea Stajic early in the first quarter.

“It was a different matchup for us; we hadn’t seen all season a post player, let alone two,” said Bishop. “But no one like Brooke, although I’ve seen her before over the last couple of years, and she’s a heck of a player.”

Despite the loss, the season showcased the team’s tenacity, marking the 32nd occasion in the program’s 49-year history that CPP reached the 20-win mark.

Bronco forward Jeanette Fine proved to be a menace for the Viking defense in the game as she came back into the game after suffering an injury less than five minutes into the match. Fine gave the team a big lift in the second half, keeping the Broncos within striking distance.

Guard Breanne Ha elaborated on how much of a warrior Fine is for the team as she continued to play despite her ribs hurting.

“She’s a fighter,” said Ha. “We’re the ones that have to tell her to step off, like ‘take a break; we need you, and you can’t keep pushing your body past the limit.’”

With Fine out early on, CPP stumbled, allowing the Vikings to outscore the Broncos 18-11 in the opening 10 minutes of play on the back of persistent 3-point shooting. Western Washington made three of 10 3-point shots in the first quarter, whereas CPP attempted just one.

In the second quarter, however, the Broncos fought hard to stay in the game. Guard Kalaya Buggs proved to be instrumental in CPP’s effort, going a perfect six for six from the charity stripe and sinking an additional 3-pointer as the team outscored the Vikings 19-18 to narrow the gap to just six points.

Guard Kalaya Buggs showed up in the second quarter to keep CPP in the game. | Cesar Rivas

After the fiercely competitive first half, the Broncos surged in the third quarter to keep the game close.

However, Western Washington locked in during the final quarter. Despite the Broncos’ efforts to level the score, they couldn’t match the Vikings’ momentum in the final minutes.

The game ended with a final score of 61-66, signaling the end of CPP’s journey in the NCAA Tournament. With this victory, No. 16 Western Washington advanced to the regional semifinals, setting up a showdown with No. 24 Cal State San Marcos.

Despite the loss, the Broncos had four players hit double figures in scoring. Sydney Nelson, Ha, Fine and Buggs, all of whom had been instrumental in leading the team’s scoring efforts throughout the season.

Ha also etched her name into the record books of CPP basketball lore.

Midway through the third quarter, Ha’s 72nd three-pointer of the season shattered the single-season record previously held by Anna James for 23 years. Ha achieved this milestone in her 30th game of the season, boasting an impressive .356 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, closely mirroring James’ .366 performance. Ha’s prowess wasn’t confined to rewriting records, as she also went on to sink another trey during the game, elevating the new single season record to 73.

Ha’s final 3-point attempt also marked her 205th of the season, eclipsing Ariel Marsh’s 204 attempts during the 2014-15 season.

“It means everything,” said Ha. “I want to make a statement. I guess shooting is one of the things that I do best. I’m glad that I could write my name in history for that.”

While the loss marks the end of the 2023-24 campaign, the team remains hopeful for the future.

Buggs shared what she thought of the team’s potential as they move into the off season.

“I think there’s a lot of potential,” said Buggs. “We’re very young; we only have two seniors. I think the fact that we have so many people returning — and so many people that contributed that were also young as well — just shows the amount of potential that we have as a team for next year.”

Bishop wanted to highlight what seniors Sydney Fedinec and Reina Sausedo meant to her, saying they proved to be leading figures for the young team.

As the season ends, the Broncos reflect on their journey with a mix of pride, gratitude and optimism, as they look to build on their successes and strive for excellence in seasons to come.

“Moving forward, I think we’re just going to keep getting better and bringing in a couple more added key pieces as well,” Bishop said. “I’ve said this on multiple interviews that I’ve said this is my hardest working team, and I think you can see out there that they are, and they leave it all on the floor. I think if we can keep building on that and just keep improving here in the off season, I’m really excited for this program.”

Feature image by Cesar Rivas

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