The absence of fans/spectators made for a strange opening night of the conference tournament.
LONG BEACH — The 2020 Big West Tournament got underway on Tuesday night at the Walter Pyramid of Cal State Long Beach with opening-round matchups between No. 5 Long Beach State and No. 8 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and No. 6 Cal State Fullerton and No. 7 Cal State Northridge.
The day began in unprecedented territory as the Big West announced mere hours before the first game tipped off that the duration of the tournament would be played without any fans or spectators present due to concerns over the coronavirus.
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Only team personnel, game staff, and credentialed media were allowed in attendance. The absence of fans gave off a little bit of an eerie vibe and the ESPN broadcast commentary was audible throughout the arena.
The absence of spectators, as well as the weird silence, prompted Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh to joke after the game that, “I could actually hear the play calls from their [CSULB] coach so we could kind of tell our team what was coming.”
Cal State Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada told his players pregame that he’d able to hear their chatter on the court for once.
“I joked with the team earlier, I said now I can see if you’re really talking on defense or not,” Harada said. “There’s no noise or distractions.”
For the most part though, coaches and players alike felt as if the games were more like a closed scrimmage with no real bearing on the outcome. CSUN junior forward Meghann Henderson mentioned how the team tries to have the same mindset each game no matter what.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit awkward not having fans out there,” Henderson said. “But we treat each game like it’s the same. We can’t let outside noise, whether it’s there or not, really affect us.”
No. 8 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 59, No. 5 Cal State Long Beach 48
As far as the actual games, the first matchup saw the Cal Poly Mustangs upset the higher-seeded Long Beach State. The game was close throughout the first half with the Mustangs maintain a 25-21 lead at the half.
The second half was a different story as junior forward Sierra Campisano got herself on track. She had 18 of her game-high 30 points in the second half to help the Mustangs build a double-digit lead they would never relinquish. She also finished with 13 rebounds and four assists.
“We definitely came ready to play today, we were the underdogs,” Campisano said. “We didn’t feel like the underdogs, we know we can beat a lot of teams in this conference. We all just came ready to play and I think everyone played their role perfectly.”
Also helping lead the way was freshman guard Abbey Ellis who chipped in 20 points of her own with eight rebounds and two assists. Ellis kept the pace in the first half, probing the defense and knocking down open shots.
“We definitely played our roles well and we took high percentage shots to win this game,” Ellis said. “We wouldn’t have had those points if we didn’t get the ball as a team, we shared the ball and it was a team effort.”
On the opposite side, Long Beach State struggled to put points on the board, something that head coach Jeff Cammon said has plagued the team all season long.
“We knew they would pack the paint and force us to shoot perimeter shots. The last four or five games we’ve actually shot the three-ball better than we have all year,” Cammon said. “We had open shots, we had good looks inside the paint, it’s tough.”
No. 6 Cal State Fullerton 67, No.7 CSUN 52
In the second matchup of the night, the lower seeded Cal State Northridge Matadors were looking to make it two upsets on the night. They came out aggressive and led 18-15 after the first quarter.
But as the game went on, Cal State Fullerton settled down and was able to play their game. The Titans led 29-26 at the half and built a double-digit lead in the second half mostly off of uncontested drives to the rim and easy shots in the paint.
Titans senior guard Raina Perez, one of the top scorers in the Big West all season, had a quiet first half offensively but made her presence felt with her playmaking ability. She probed the defense and found the seams to get her teammates open shots. She had six assists at the half and finished with 11 overall.
“I put a big emphasis on ‘we’ not ‘me.’ I was just looking for my teammates, if I’m not there I know they’ll pick me up regardless if my shot’s falling or not,” Perez said. “It’s huge that I impact the game doing other things.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Titans win was redshirt junior forward Taylor Turney. She finished with a game-high 27 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line. CSUN swept the regular-season series against CSUF, and CSUN head coach Jason Flowers remarked that Turney was the key in this game.
“If you look at the first two games we played against them, she was limited. She wasn’t really effective, she turned the ball over a lot,” Flowers said. “She comes out tonight and has 27 points. She was good, she was highly efficient. She was the difference in the game.”
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