Sophomore guard Stephanie Berberabe picked the right time to go hot from the floor for the Westmont women’s basketball team.
The Norwalk, Calif. native has come on as of late, scoring in double figures in seven of her last nine outings, including Friday evening at Murchison Gymnasium, as Westmont hosted William Jessup in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament.
Berberabe exploded for 17 points in the first half, shooting 8-for-11 from the floor, and would finish with a team-high 19 to lead the Warriors to a 74-54 victory over William Jessup.
“We knew they (William Jessup) was going to be a good matchup for us. They are always a good matchup for us. They were really tight on our shooters so I just thought I would hit the open gaps and if they closed it off I would kick it out to our shooters, who I trust to hit it,” Berberabe said.
With the win, Westmont will move into the GSAC Championship game and will face The Master’s at 5 p.m. today.
“We are just really incredibly balanced, we have so many weapons,” Warriors coach Kirsten Moore said.
“Today, in the first half, it was Stephanie. She was just in attack mode and was able to finish so well.”
Westmont struggled in the opening minutes to see the ball go through the hoop, but not Berberabe, who made her first four shots from the floor to give the Warriors a 13-7 lead less than seven minutes into the opening frame.
William Jessup was responding in the form of Aycee Willis who scored eight of her game-high 21 points in the first quarter.
After a Willis layup cut the lead down to two, Westmont’s Gabriella Stoll hit a mid-range jumper, and Lauren Tsuneishi swished a 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 20-13 end of first-quarter lead.
The second period saw William Jessup go hot from deep, nailing 5-of-10 of its shots from 3-point range. Even with that performance, however, Westmont still got the best of its opponent, shooting 10-for-17 from the floor as Berberabe scored nine to outscore William Jessup by seven points and take a 44-30 lead into the break.
“She’s been playing great. I’d say in the preseason she was playing this consistently well before she got hurt in the middle of the season which really affected her ability to do what she does out there, but she’s back to full strength and playing fantastic,” Moore said of Berberabe.
In the second half, William Jessup could not find the same success from deep, as the Warriors shifted their defense and held WJU to 2-for-12 shooting from 3-point range.
“We had to make some adjustments at halftime and the basketball IQ on my team really showed up in that second half,” Moore said.
“Consistently throughout the year, they’re able to take the input we give them at halftime and really apply it and not every team can do that so I’m really proud of my players for just the intelligence they bring.”
Though Berberabe scored only two points in the second half, other Warriors were happy to step up in her place to deliver the victory.
Tsuneishi and senior Maud Ranger both hit a three in the third quarter to give Westmont its highest lead at 23.
And, in the fourth quarter, when William Jessup cut it to as low as 14, Tsuneishi and Ranger again hit a pair of 3s to go along with a couple of free throws to extend the lead back out to 22 with 3:28 remaining in the contest.
Tsuneishi would finish with 16 points while Ranger was right behind her with 12. Both players hit four 3s in the game, as the Warriors hit 13 3-pointers and shot 45% from the floor in the win.
“We have so much momentum as a team and we come together really well. We know that each possession matters and we can’t take anything for granted, especially in the postseason,” Berberabe said.
William Jessup was led by Willis’ 21 while All-GSAC player Liz Gehweiler added another 11 points in the loss to round out WJU’s double-digit scorers.
With the win, the Warriors have now also won 13 straight and will put that streak on the line Saturday against The Master’s.
The two programs split the season series with the Mustangs striking first before the Warriors bounced back with a 56-44 win on the road back on Feb. 22. Since Westmont’s first loss to The Master’s, the team has not lost since.
“They’re a phenomenal team and we’ve had two really great battles with them so far this year so I think it’s going to be a fantastic game and I hope a lot of people come out and support us,” Moore said.
Moore also added that the key to winning the rubber match will be again finding a way to stop the Mustangs’ Stephanie Soares.
The GSAC Player of the Year scored 25 points and collected 24 rebounds in The Master’s first win but in the second meeting, the Warriors held her in check giving up only nine points and 15 rebounds.
“We got to find a way to defend 6-6 and we got to find a way to rebound against 6-6 so we got to be really scrappy, we got to do it as a team and we got to have great synergy,” Moore said.
“But, I know my girls will be ready to do that.”
With a win, Westmont would win capture its fifth consecutive GSAC tournament title.