Each day during practice, JJ Johnson thinks about one shot.
There were 16.1 seconds left and the Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball team trailed Seattle by three in the 2018 Western Athletic Conference Tournament title game. Johnson came off a screen, passed up a 3-pointer to take a floater layup that did not reach the net after some contact with a Seattle player.
The Redhawks got the ball and held on for a 57-54 win. Instead of CSUB advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, Seattle did.
“It was pretty sad for me,” Johnson said of the game. “... I should have done better. I should have shot a 3 instead of trying to take a layup. I put the blame on me. … I always think about that shot and that game and it’s just that motivation to help me fight during this season.”
The Roadrunners came within a game of their first regular season and postseason WAC titles before falling short by one and three points in the deciding games. With the 2018-19 season ahead of them, CSUB’s coaches and players are trying to use the heartbreaking finish as motivation to get things right this year.
CSUB will play Long Beach State in a closed scrimmage on Sunday and start the year on Nov. 6 against Wright State.
“We have to get better in order to end up in a better position next year,” point guard Alexxus Gilbert said. “We’re trying to get better everyday because we want to win.”
It varies from player to player whether they’ve gone back to watch the film of the two crucial games or not. Dalis Jones hasn’t and doesn’t want to. It’s still disappointing.
Gilbert has, “many times.” “Sad,” she added.
Like Johnson, center Vanessa Austin has second guessed her own play from critical moments last season.
“I could have done more for my team in those type of situations,” Austin said. “Maybe post up a little longer, post up a little harder, finish around the rim, finish my free throws.”
None of it changes the fact that the games are in the past and each person is more focused on the upcoming season.
CSUB graduated its leading scorer in Aja Williams, who averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The Roadrunners also lost their leading rebounder, Jazmyne Bartee, and possibly most valuable player, Alize Lofton, who suffered a season-ending injury late last year.
Returning are Johnson and Gilbert, who both started all 32 games last season. Austin, whose role as a freshman center grew each game last season, is also back.
New to the team are junior college transfer Nina Carpenter, and sisters Nia and Nadia Johnson, among others.
“I actually think we’re better talent-wise than we were last year,” Johnson said. “Better shooters, better post play, better defenders.”
Kandiss Barber transfered to CSUB from Rutgers and sat out the 2017-18 season because of NCAA rules. She would have been one of the top players on the team this season but is no longer with the Roadrunners.
“Just one of those things where it just didn’t work out,” CSUB head coach Greg McCall said. “Wish it could have, but it didn’t.”
The expectations are high once again. The Roadrunners were picked to finish second in the conference by the media and the coaches, garnering two first place votes from the coaches. They had a taste of what being at the top could be like, and are determined not to fall short in their next chance.
“I’m ready to get back there again this year,” Austin said. “So ready.”