With a 66-57 victory over the Oaks of Menlo (18-8, 12-5) on Thursday evening, #5 Westmont Women’s Basketball (22-2, 15-2), secured at least a share of the Golden State Athletic Conference Regular Season Championship and a bye in the quarterfinals of next week’s GSAC Tournament.
Coming into the game, Menlo, who had lost just one game since the middle of December, was looking to hand Westmont its third loss of the season. The Warriors, however, were intent on avenging last month’s loss to the Oaks when the two teams met in Atherton.
The Warriors had a strong start, outscoring the Oaks 20-6 in the first quarter of play. Six different Warriors contributed to the scoring in the opening frame with Stefanie Berberabe leading the way with six points and Sydney Brown adding four.
“I thought we started the game with a focused defensive effort that set the tone for the whole game.” said Westmont’s veteran head coach Kirsten Moore. “Menlo plays aggressive defense and it is part of their game plan to not allow us open looks. We had to adjust and take what they gave us. We did a good job of seeing some of those opportunities.”
Menlo shooters found their range in the second quarter as the Oaks shot 50% from the floor (7 of 14) and outscored the Warriors 15-12. Laila Saenz, who did not score in the first quarter, led the Warriors in the second period with five points.
Westmont entered the second half with a 32-21 advantage. However, that lead evaporated over the first eight minutes of the third quarter in which they were outscored 15-2.
“Menlo is an incredibly talented offensive team,” noted Moore. “Obviously, they made a huge run, came back and even took the lead on us.”
With her team down by two with 2:16 to play in the penultimate period, Moore called a timeout.
“I told the team that it was gut-check time and time for us to go on a run,” reported Moore. “We had to make some stops on the defensive end to make it happen. We changed defenses at that point and created a number of turnovers and deflections. The press and our scrappiness came through at that point.”
A minute after the timeout, Menlo added a free throw to go up 37-34. In the final 65 seconds of the third quarter, however, Westmont took control of the game and produced an 11-0 run.
Saenz drilled a long-distance three to start the run, was fouled on the play, and converted the and-one free throw to give Westmont a 38-37 lead. Sage Kramer followed with a layup on the Warriors’ next possession. Then, Berberabe stole the ball and scored on a layup. Before the horn could sound at the end of the third quarter, Kramer hit from beyond the arc, putting the Warriors ahead 45-37.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors picked up where they left off. Berberabe and Brown hit jumpers before Saenz drained two free throws to extend the run to 17-0 and give Westmont a 14-point lead (51-37).
“I am really proud of that gut-check by my team in that moment to come back and go on our own run,” expressed Moore. “It showed a lot of fortitude. I am proud of Syd and Stef for their leadership and experience in those moments. They gave us that fight and led us through.
Though the Oaks would find their shooting touch again, they were unable to cut the deficit to less than seven.
Berberabe finished the game with 21 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Saenz added 13 points for the Warriors while Kramer tallied 10 points.
Brown put up nine points while pulling down 17 rebounds. With 789 career boards, the senior moved into third place on the career rebound list.
“Syd’s rebounds tonight were incredible,” pointed out Moore. “They have a lot of long and athletic post players that we had to battle with on the board.
“So many people stepped up for us. Our bench was incredible tonight. Paula Graichen’s minutes were amazing. Both Sage and Bailey Fong scored the ball and made big buckets in big moments. Sage was an important part of that run. It was a total team effort tonight with Stef controlling the pace. She showed why she is one of the best, if not the best, guard in the country tonight.”
Saturday afternoon, the Warriors will conclude the regular season by hosting Jessup (14-12, 9-8) at Murchison Gymnasium. With a win, Westmont can claim the GSAC Regular Season Championship outright, earn the top seed in the GSAC Tournament, and secure an automatic berth in next month’s NAIA National Championship.
“I want to see us finish out strong here on Senior Day on Saturday,” said Moore. “It is important heading into the postseason to be playing well and to finish conference strong.”
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.