The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
Once again, it was all about the defense for the Long Beach State women’s basketball team. The Beach didn’t have an offensive explosion from any player the way they did with Tori Harris’ 32-point game last weekend, but the stifling Long Beach defense was enough to turn away an upset-minded Cal Poly team down the stretch. The Beach were able to get two stops in the game’s final minute to hang onto a thrilling 57-54 victory.
With the win, Long Beach State (12-7, 7-2) remain in second place in the Big West, and pick up their fifth consecutive victory. With UC Irvine catching their first loss in conference play Thursday night, the Beach are now just a game back of the conference’s top spot. They hit the road to UC Davis on Saturday.
“We try not to talk streaks, we know we’re playing good basketball right now,” said LBSU coach Jeff Cammon. “We did a decent job of dictating tonight, not letting them get into a rhythm where they could run their offense. That’s what we want to do, take teams out of what they want to do.”
The Beach led wire to wire after a 23-13 lead to close out the first quarter, but had to sweat it out down the stretch as the Mustangs cut the lead to one possession in the game’s final five minutes.
With back-to-back shot clock violations forced, the Beach defense was dialed in over the final minutes. Still Cal Poly cut their lead to 50-49 with just four minutes remaining. Kianna Hamilton-fisher knocked down a big three for some of her 15 points, making it a four-point game, but Cal Poly cut it back to one with a three of their own a minute later. Malia Bambrick put the Beach back up by three with a minute left, but Annikah Shah got to the line and converted both free throws to cut the lead back to 55-54 with 55 seconds left.
Ma’Qhi Berry and Hamilton-fisher both made one free throw down the stretch, giving the ball back to Cal Poly with 19 seconds remaining, down 57-54.
“We knew they needed a three so we were expecting flare screens and pin downs, we wanted to switch and stay high, force them to take a long three,” said Berry. They did just that, and the Mustangs couldn’t connect, although a long rebound bounced out of bounds with 0.6 seconds left. Berry was able to tip away the inbound pass on the final play to end the game with another Beach win.
Still, despite the win, Berry said her team isn’t satisfied.
“We’re playing good, but I jus tknow that we can play at another level,” she said. “We’re not hitting at that next level yet. Coach Jeff has been in practice and in everything we do letting us know we have to find the sense of urgency. That’s something he’s been emphasizing constantly.”
Berry anchored the defense with three steals, as the Beach forced just 15 turnovers, below their season average. But they held their opponent to 38% shooting and 18% from three-point range.
Hamilton-fisher led the way with 15 points offensively, but the Beach didn’t have a 20-point scorer pop out the way they typically have. Cammon credited the Mustangs with throwing off his team’s rhythm offensively.
“They do a good job, they’re a tough team, they pack it in and they play scout defense,” he said. “We were hesitant and indecisive tonight for some reason on offense. We’re trying to pound it inside and it got stagnant.”
Berry and Bambrick backed up Hamilton-fisher with 10 points apiece, with Berry adding five assists and Hamilton-fisher dishing out six dimes.