LAS VEGAS — Cal State Bakersfield head coach Greg McCall paced the sideline, constantly wincing and grimacing. He yelled, but his players didn’t seem to hear him.
CSUB’s 16-point lead over Texas-Rio Grande Valley from early in the fourth quarter was rapidly shrinking. With 5:26 left, it slimmed to just six points.
“I’m trying to scream my lungs out and it’s kind of hard for them to hear me,” McCall said. “‘Take good shots.’ My assistant coaches told me I might have to start stomping again to get them better composed when the games are getting out of hand a little bit.”
But when CSUB started getting the ball inside to forward Malayasia McHenry, McCall’s expression gradually converted to brief smiles.
McHenry ended a three-minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter for the Roadrunners with hook shots and made free throws. She scored eight consecutive points to build the lead back up to 10 before UTRGV began fouling. The No. 2 Roadrunners held on for a 70-59 win over No. 7 UTRGV in the first round of the WAC Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
McHenry ended the game with a career-high 21 points and career-high eight rebounds.
“She pulled out from underneath a rock there when we were taking some bad shots,” McCall said of McHenry.
The Roadrunners (17-12, 10-4 Western Athletic) have Thursday off and will face No. 3 Grand Canyon — which spoiled CSUB’s shot a the regular season conference title — on Friday at noon in the semifinals.
McHenry’s late-game takeover started with 5:11 left. She made a left-handed hook shot in the lane. She converted two free throws and then sunk a right-handed hook in the paint to put CSUB up 64-54 with 3:36 left.
“We’ve been waiting on this all season long and we’ve been telling her to just play like a beast, go up like a beast,” McCall said. “You don't have to settle. You don't have to go for soft shots. Man, what a game that she had.”
McHenry was the only player to consistently score on 6-foot-3 UTRGV (14-16, 4-10) center Laura Van Tillburg. And when McHenry, who is 6-foot-1, had 5-foot-10 Vaqueros forward Megan Johnson guarding her, McHenry muscled her under the basket and made layups.
Though McHenry came into the game averaging 3.8 points per game on 33.6 percent shooting, she finished Wednesday 7-for-12 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the free throw line. She only turned the ball over one time.
“I want to win a championship so I'm doing whatever it takes for my team to get to where we need to be,” McHenry said.
While the end of the game was led by McHenry, the beginning was fueled by CSUB guard Jazmine Johnson. She scored a team-high 23 points and had 13 of CSUB’s 20 in the first quarter.
Johnson led the defense to 11 first-half steals and a 40-27 lead at halftime. CSUB had 25 points off of turnovers at that point.
Though the Roadrunners were outscored 17-14 in the fourth quarter, McHenry came up with enough late-game points to preserve the win.
“She was just taking her time, taking it where she needed to get to on the floor,” McCall said. “They couldn't stop it. We were gonna keep coming to her.”