As expected, CSU Bakersfield advanced to the WAC final.
The way it happened was anything but expected. The No. 1 Roadrunners crawled to an 81-80 semifinal win against No. 4 Utah Valley in the first four overtime game in WAC Tournament history. For a time, it appeared the Wolverines would pull a big upset in the standard 40 minutes.
UVU took a 49-41 lead with just 2:40 remaining in regulation, which seemed insurmountable considering CSUB shot under 25.0 percent for much of the game.
Jaylin Airington wouldn’t let the ‘Runners season slip away. The senior scored 11 points in the final 2:28 to send the game to its first overtime. CSUB’s pressure also ate away at UVU in that span, and for the game forced the Wolverines into 28 turnovers.
Still, UVU continued to punch back against the No. 1 seed.
It was arguably UVU’s best defensive effort of the season as the Wolverines held CSUB to just 29.5 percent from the floor. They also smothered Damiyne Durham, holding the combustible shooter to zero points in the first 56 minutes. UVU held leads in each overtime, and was an Ivory Young (15 points) drive in the final seconds of the fourth overtime away from advancing to the final.
In the end, it must feel like a big missed opportunity.
Airington (22 points) fouled out midway through the second overtime, joining Matt Smith, who fouled out in regulation, on the bench. This took an all-league first and second team player out of the mix. Yet players like Durham (who scored five points in the fourth overtime) and Fallou N’Doye (who scored what turned into the game winner) did enough to keep a second consecutive NCAA bid on the table for CSUB.
Not only was it was a historically-long night, it was a night filled with history. Here are some of the WAC Tournament records that were set (or close to being set):
- The Wolverines grabbed the most rebounds in a WAC Tournament game (68), eclipsing the previous high (58) set by Hawaii in 1994. Isaac Neilson led the way with 16 rebounds, tying a career high.
- CSUB made (32) and attempted (45) the most free throws in a WAC Tournament game. This eclipsed the previous high for makes (30) set by New Mexico State (2015) and Tulsa (2003), and attempts (42) set by NMSU in 1986.
- UVU nearly posted the best field goal percentage defense in a WAC Tournament game. The previous best (26.7 percent) was in reach for much of the game, but some late CSUB efficiency “rose” its final field goal percentage to 29.5 percent.
The most significant figure going forward might be 60 minutes, since CSUB’s core players were on the court for much of the marathon. Dedrick Basile (53 minutes), Airington (49 minutes) and Brent Wrapp (44 minutes) all played what amounts to two games worth of minutes for some players.
Will that have an effect in the final Saturday night? To the Runners’ favor, they will be playing a team that has played an extra game in Las Vegas.
Rod Barnes might be more concerned about his offense.
It clearly wasn’t a smooth outing against a UVU team that was packing the paint and daring players like Smith to beat it with jump shots. That might be waved off as an anomaly, but CSUB struggled similarly in its loss to Grand Canyon in the regular season finale (albeit without Wrapp).
Yet the ‘Runners did what they do best in this game: stifle their opponent. CSUB’s defense can cover a lot of mistakes, and has given the program a shot at back-to-back WAC Tournament titles.