Hanging in the rafters of the Icardo Center are banners commemorating Cal State Bakersfield’s 2016 NCAA Tournament appearance and 2017 National Invitation Tournament semifinal run in men’s basketball. Women’s basketball coach Greg McCall pulled junior point guard and captain Alexxus Gilbert to admire them.
“Did they want to be in the NIT?,” McCall said Tuesday. “Probably not. They wanted to be in the Big Dance. They had a taste of that, but then they went into the NIT and look at the run they had and look at the magic they had behind that.
“That’s why this game is exciting because … we get an opportunity to continue to make history.”
After losing the Western Athletic Conference championship game to Seattle, 57-54, in Las Vegas on Saturday, the CSUB women (18-13) missed out on their chance to make it into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in team history. But the Roadrunners will host Fresno State (16-14) in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational postseason tournament on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Icardo Center.
The winner of the CSUB-Fresno State game will take on the winner of UC Irvine-Nevada. The second round game will be at a campus site to be determined.
“We are mentally strong,” CSUB redshirt senior Jazmyne Bartee said. “We are still in it to win it.”
McCall initially wondered how motivated his players would be for the WBI, considering the goal all year long was the NCAA Tournament, but soon after the announcement his players started asking if they would get rings if they win the CBI title.
He could tell they were all in.
“We don’t want to just be a part of it,” McCall said. “We want to win the whole thing.”
It helps that CSUB’s first opponent is Central Valley rival Fresno State, which hardly ever makes the trip south to Bakersfield.
Fresno State finished fifth in the Mountain West Conference and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. The Bulldogs feature a guard-heavy starting lineup and an offensive that spreads the floor with motion action, McCall said.
CSUB’s head coach thinks the Roadrunners can take advantage of Fresno State’s below-average speed and lack of size.
“They’re pretty tall for guards, but then they kind of plateau out at the post,” McCall said.
Should CSUB beat Fresno State and advance to the second round, the home team will be determined by RPI, WBI director Sallie Gordon said in an email. The team with the better RPI will get the choice to host, but if it is unwilling or unable to host, the opposing team will.
CSUB’s RPI 205 and the second-worst in the 16-team tournament. Nevada’s RPI is 170 and UC Irvine’s RPI is 198.
As a redshirt senior, Bartee is making the most out of the game and being in the WBI, considering the next loss will mean the end of her career.
“Going to the Big Dance, we would have had a limited amount of games to play,” Bartee said. “ I refuse to believe that any game is my last game. Going into the WBI, I have a lot more games, a lot more opportunities to keep playing with my teammates.”
CSUB will be making its third appearance in the WBI and third postseason appearance in the last five years. The Roadrunners participated in the WNIT in 2014 and 2015. Bakersfield lost the WBI championship game in 2011.