LAS VEGAS — There’s a part of Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball senior guard Alexxus Gilbert’s game that Grand Canyon head coach Nicole Powell both hates (because she has to game plan against it) and admires.
“She takes big shots,” Powell said of Gilbert. “She keeps taking it. She just always is putting the pressure on the defense.”
After checking the box score of Wednesday night’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament game, Powell compared Gilbert’s performance to Klay Thompson from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
Third-seeded CSUB (14-16, 9-7 WAC) took over in the third quarter, outscoring sixth-seeded Grand Canyon (7-19, 5-11) by 12, to come away with a 73-59 win at Orleans Arena. Gilbert, who finished with 27 points and was 7-for-12 from 3-point range, scored 11 points in the third. She outscored GCU, which had 10, by herself.
“I definitely came out as aggressive as I can tonight,” Gilbert said. “I’m trying to win a championship. If it takes me being aggressive and shooting and making big shots, I’m willing to do that.”
CSUB will get Thursday off, then face No. 2 Texas-Rio Grande Valley at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the semifinals. UTRGV survived a scare from No. 7 Seattle, winning 58-56.
The Roadrunners beat GCU for the third time this year and ended the Lopes season for the second year in a row. All three of this season’s wins over GCU were by double digits.
Gilbert didn’t start the takeover for CSUB in the third. That was done by redshirt senior guard JJ Johnson. She drew a foul to get to the free throw line. She hit a stepback jumper in the lane and then another.
Johnson rocked her arms back and forth in celebration before drawing a charge on the other end of the floor. CSUB’s 33-29 halftime lead turned into a 44-33 advantage. The Roadrunners knew Johnson, who had 11 points, could get a mismatch on a post player and most the most of it.
After a Johnson miss, Gilbert got going. Johnson’s shot never hit the rim, which Gilbert didn’t initially realize. Gilbert heaved a 3 between the 3-point arc and halfcourt, swishing it. She buried a corner 3 to force a GCU timeout.
Gilbert made one more 3-pointer in the third and CSUB led 55-39 going into the final period. Her seven made 3s in the game was a career high.
“We had JJ here for a moment kind of break loose, do her thing,” Roadrunners head coach Greg McCall said. “We ran a couple of sets for her until we made her run out of gas. Then we started going over here to Alexxus and kind of started going with her until she ran out of gas. And then we went to (freshman) Ashley Austin, kind of milked those three a little bit more.”
CSUB held GCU to 10 points in the pivotal third quarter. The Lopes only made three field goals (out of 10) and turned the ball over five times.
Grand Canyon led 12-5 in the first quarter before McCall called a timeout with 3:35 left.
Bakersfield native and Grand Canyon freshman Taylor Caldwell finished with seven points, four rebounds and two assists.
“Our defense is gonna get us to this championship,” McCall said. “We keep playing the defense the way we’re playing right now, it’ll get us there. But we also have to be able to score the basketball.”