Greg McCall thinks it’s time for the Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball program to take the next step. It’s been a long time coming, the head coach said.
The Roadrunners have made it to postseason play in the form of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and the Women’s Basketball Invitational in the past, but never the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve done a lot of great things in this program,” McCall said. “... So it’s time for us to kind of get our shot at going to the Big Dance this year.”
Coming off an overtime, upset loss in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament last season, CSUB is looking to redeem itself by way of a conference title. McCall believes he has the tools to finally make history.
“Why not?,” sophomore point guard Alexxus Gilbert said regarding why this will be the year CSUB gets over the hump. “We should win it every year, but this is gonna be a good year for us. If you’re a women’s basketball fan you’re gonna like it.”
Some of the players and coaches still aren’t over the Roadrunners’ last game. Sophomore guard Kate Tokuhara said she never will be. CSUB finished the regular season tied for second in the conference but lost in the first round of the tournament in Las Vegas in overtime to Utah Valley, which was seeded sixth.
The players made mental mistakes, as CSUB dug into its bench against Utah Valley, McCall said. But the ones that are back now understand what it takes to win a close game at a critical point in the season. Redemption has turned into the theme of the upcoming season.
“They’re really, really hungry,” McCall says. “They’re looking forward to try and go back to Vegas and redeem themselves. I think this will be a good year for us to show the people and show our fans that we’re ready to come out this season and win it this time.”
A WAC tournament win means an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
CSUB has finished three of its four regular seasons in the WAC either tied for second or alone in second place. The Runners made it to the conference tournament semifinal round each of its first three years.
What gives this edition of the team an advantage, McCall said, is its height.
The Roadrunners have redshirt senior center Jazmyne Bartee, who is 6-foot-2. They added 6-foot-3 center/forward freshman Vanessa Austin and 6-foot-5 transfer Nandi Jorden from Hillsborough (Florida) Community College.
“We haven't had her wing span measured yet, but her wingspan is pretty daggone long,” McCall said.
“We’re definitely much taller, much bigger,” McCall said. “We’re a lot stronger. We feel like we can possibly go big at times and then there’s times where we need to go small, but we’re still tall enough to be able to compete, handle what we need to handle in the conference.”
Add that with a tweaked offense that will focus more around screens and movement and McCall thinks he has the pieces for a successful offense.
The team is also more athletic and versatile this season, Gilbert said.
McCall considers men’s basketball coach Rod Barnes to be one of his biggest mentors. He looks to the man whose office is just two doors over to see a materialization of what he’s trying to do with the women's program. The men's program made their first NCAA Tournament in 2016 and reached the National Invitation Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden last year.
The final variables McCall has identified are that everyone needs to stay healthy and not lose their focus.
So will this be the year?
“I’m hoping,” McCall said, knocking his fist on the dark brown wooden desk in his office. “I’m hoping.”