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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | AREA COLLEGE NOTEBOOK

Hinojosa Handles Wave Loss In Style

March 07, 2000|STEVE HENSON

She didn't play well and her team collapsed at the worst possible time, but freshman Damaris Hinojosa of Pepperdine exhibited maturity and class beyond her years at the West Coast Conference women's basketball tournament at Santa Clara.

Minutes after the Waves had blown a lead and nearly gotten blown out of Toso Pavilion, 68-51, in the tournament final against San Diego, Hinojosa was ushered into an interview room to explain how it felt to let an NCAA tournament berth slip away.

Hinojosa, The Times' Ventura County player of the year at Moorpark High last season, didn't blink.

"We'll stay together as a team and get through this," she said. "It wasn't a case of us falling apart as much as it was San Diego playing very well down the stretch. That team played with a lot of heart."

The Toreros (17-12) were only 7-7 in WCC play, but seniors Susie Erpelding, Jessica Gray and Maria Perez-Barris keyed their three-game run through the tournament.

"Their seniors really came together and showed what can happen when you want something really bad," Hinojosa said. "For us, it was the first time all season we didn't answer a run with a run."

After losing in the conference tournament final two years in a row, Pepperdine (21-9) will certainly be brimming with desire next season. The Waves will also have every significant contributor back except senior forward Dee Braxton, including WCC player of the year Rasheeda Clark.

Hinojosa, the WCC freshman of the year, made only three of 12 shots in the final after scoring 29 points in a first-round victory over Gonzaga and 10 points in a semifinal victory over Portland.

"Our shots weren't falling, but it was more due to their defense than anything else," Pepperdine Coach Mark Trakh said.

With their NCAA tournament plans dashed, the Waves are hoping for a berth in the NIT. Their regular-season WCC title and strong finish--the San Diego loss snapped an 11-game winning streak--make them a strong candidate.

"Our strength of schedule and late-season run could get us in," Trakh said. "I hope so. I think our players deserve it."

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