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BIG WEST WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Long Beach State Opens With Win Over Utah State

March 11, 2004|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Long Beach State, despite 23 turnovers, earned Mary Hegarty her first Division I conference tournament win with a 55-48 victory over Utah State in the first round of the Big West Conference women's basketball tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center Wednesday.

Hegarty led Chapman College to the NCAA Division III tournament in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and had a 57-24 record during that span, but Wednesday was the first time she felt that the underachieving 49ers (13-15, 8-10) proved they belonged in the postseason.

The win came at the fifth location in five games spanning three states for the 49ers. Long Beach won three of those contests. "We have been looking for an identity and we found it," she said. "We're a road team."

The 49ers, who play Cal Poly San Luis Obispo today at 2 p.m., survived a five-minute scoring drought midway through the first half and were clinging to a 49-48 lead with 3:20 remaining. But Utah State (5-22, 5-13) did not score again.

Jayme Connors (13 points) shared high-point honors with Long Beach teammate Christina Mack.

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Cal State Fullerton 71, UC Riverside 56 -- The Titans' victory heralded the tournament return of former Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah, who came out of retirement to rebuild the struggling program after an 11-year hiatus.

"I told my players that they have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. I always believe that," said Jeremiah, who has a record of 384-257 in 24 years. "I've always coached that way."

Fullerton, which plays today at noon against Pacific, used a 14-2 run over a 4 1/2-minute stretch of the second half to take a 65-52 lead with 2:11 to play.

Rochelle Ortega led the Titans (9-19, 8-10) with 22 points and seven rebounds. Riverside finished 7-21 overall, 6-12 in conference.

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