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BIG WEST WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

It's All Coming Together for 49ers

March 14, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Long Beach State's road to the Big West Conference tournament semifinals in women's basketball has been a rocky one, starting even before the season.

First, top recruit Liz Sun, a freshman expected to challenge for a starting position at point guard, suffered a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, forcing her to redshirt.

Then, six games into the season, starting center Jayme Conners, who was averaging 11 points and nine rebounds, was lost for the season because of an ankle injury. The 49ers lost eight of their first 11 games.

And just when the team seemed to have regrouped, winning its first five conference games, guard Deja Blevins suffered a torn ACL and, a couple of weeks later, backup center Sarah Stout suffered a fractured leg.

After their strong Big West start, the 49ers lost six of nine.

But in a down season in the conference -- only three of 10 teams finished the regular season above .500 -- Long Beach salvaged third place, only a game behind runner-up Pacific and four games behind champion UC Santa Barbara.

Glory Johnson, a forward who finished second to Santa Barbara center Lindsay Taylor in conference player-of-the-year balloting, said Long Beach players -- the ones left -- realized they'd have to pull together quickly after Stout's injury.

"In the beginning of the season we were a little bit shaky," Johnson said. "Everyone was doing their own thing. We play a lot more team ball now."

Long Beach (14-14) had four players score in double figures Wednesday in a 76-62 first-round tournament victory over San Luis Obispo.

"They are unbelievably athletic. It's scary," San Luis Obispo Coach Faith Mimnaugh said. "There transition game is so good."

San Luis Obispo guard Kari Duperron said Long Beach is executing its system better than it has all season.

"They recruit the kind of players who can play what the coaches want them to do, so if they miss two or three players, the others can step in and make that system work," she said.

A win today against Pacific (15-13) would put Long Beach in the conference tournament championship game for the fourth time in five years -- not a bad position to be in considering the roller-coaster nature of this season, Coach Dallas Bolla believes.

"The difference between us and Pacific," she said. "Is just a three-point shot at the buzzer that they hit at their place."

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