The Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball team piled into its locker room in the Icardo Center and the conversation immediately shifted to the next game amid the heartbreak that had just occurred.
“It’s over with,” redshirt senior center Jazmyne Bartee recalled players saying. “We missed our opportunity and, yes, it’s our fault, but we have another one.”
The Roadrunners had just blown their chance at the first Division I regular season conference championship for a women’s team at CSUB, losing to Grand Canyon in double overtime at home. But it was just the final game of the regular season, not the year.
CSUB (16-12, 10-4 Western Athletic) is the No. 2 seed in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and opens up against Texas-Rio Grande Valley (14-15, 4-10) at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The Roadrunners have a chance to make it to the WAC title game for the first time in team history and maybe even the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
“They say your windshield is a lot bigger than your rear view mirror,” Bartee said. “You keep staring in your rearview mirror, you’re gonna crash. You’re bound to crash. … We’re gonna peak at the rearview mirror. We’re gonna see what got us here and why we’re in the position we’re at, but it’s not gonna hold us back.”
Part of what got CSUB to its first place position with two games left in the regular season was senior forward Alize’ Lofton. Last season, in front of the entire team, CSUB head coach Greg McCall said that “if she ever decides to wake up and start playing ball ... Alize’ Lofton will help us win a championship.”
Recently, she was finally proving him right.
The Roadrunners’ eight-game win streak started when Lofton made the first of her eight straight starts. She took her 1.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game during non-conference play and increased those averages to 8.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists during WAC games.
“She did everything,” McCall said. “She brought it up the floor, posted up, made passes, played all five spots on the floor offensively and defensively. She’s that valuable. … She was the best player without having to be doing all the scoring.”
Knowing that Lofton had won state championships while in high school at Lynwood High School and East LA College (junior college), McCall often told Lofton she needed to win one at CSUB.
But in the final minutes at Utah Valley on Feb. 22, Lofton went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon, ending her season. CSUB lost its final two games without Lofton.
“She has an opportunity to get another championship under her belt if we take care of business for her, because it’s gonna be for her,” McCall said on Feb. 27 between sighs.
Forward Aja Williams took Lofton’s place and Malayasia McHenry helped fill the void, too. There’s no replacing what Lofton did for the team, Bartee said, but CSUB can emphasize the strengths of the players it does have.
The game plan adjustments have been made, McCall said, and not having Lofton can no longer be an excuse.
“We definitely have some weapons that we could still unleash,” Bartee said.
UTRGV is a team that CSUB beat by three in overtime on the road on Jan. 11 and by 41 at home on Feb. 10. McCall said the Vaqueros can either be really good or really bad so his team has to be ready for anything.
CSUB is trying to approach one game at a time because an upset — like what happened Saturday — is always possible and would ruin a shot at history. But the players also know what is on the horizon and the caliber team they believe they are.
“I do believe where we belong is in that championship game,” Bartee said.