Cal State Bakersfield women’s basketball head coach Greg McCall pumped his right arm with his hand in a fist as CSUB guard JJ Johnson sunk the first of her two free throws to put the Roadrunners up by four with about 12 seconds left in the game.
Johnson hit the next, giving the Roadrunners a 68-63 advantage and leaving visiting Texas-Rio Grande Valley to miss the rim on two desperation 3-point attempts before time expired.
Coming into Thursday, CSUB had lost eight of its last nine games (10 of its last 11 Division I games) due to an inability to get stops on defense — especially late in games — according to McCall. But against the Vaqueros, CSUB’s defense stiffened up.
The Roadrunners (6-10, 2-1 Western Athletic) got the stops they needed late and outscored UTRGV (7-8, 1-1) by 12 points in the fourth quarter to come back and win 68-63 in the Icardo Center on Thursday.
“Gutsy performance for us,” McCall said.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Roadrunners trailed by seven. UTRGV had outscored CSUB by seven in the opening quarter and the Roadrunners had yet to make up ground.
UTRGV’s Megan Johnson hit a wide open 3-pointer to start out the fourth, putting the Vaqueros up by 10. Then it finally started to click for CSUB.
The Roadrunners grabbed onto the ball for a jump ball, forced a miss, then forced a travel. On its offensive possessions, freshman guard Ashley Austin made two layups for four of her game-high and career-high 21 points. Malaysia McHenry and Alexxus Gilbert added jumpers in between the defensive stops to pull CSUB within a score, 52-50.
With about five minutes left, Johnson ripped the ball away as UTRGV’s Quynne Huggins tried to drive past into the lane. Johnson took it the other way for a fastbreak layup. It capped off a 12-2 run for the Roadrunners and tied the game at 54.
McCall labeled it a “big time play.”
“I feel like we came out focused,” Ashley Austin said. “We knew to lock in and get our man.”
When the Vaqueros had the ball, trailing by one point with 33 seconds left, CSUB sophomore center Vanessa Austin forced a miss. UTRGV’s Idil Turk drove right and Vanessa Austin tried to take a charge. The contact, with no call, was enough to alter the shot.
Ashley Austin picked up the rebound and made her two free throws with 13 seconds left.
UTRGV tried to inbound it on the offensive side of the floor, but the Roadrunners pressured Huggins into catching the ball in the corner and stepping out of bounds with 12 seconds to go.
Johnson followed it up with her free throws.
“Defense. I told you,” McCall said of the difference in the final quarter. “We’re gonna continue to harp on this defense, man.”
Vanessa Austin scored 12 points, 10 of which came in the third quarter. CSUB forced 24 turnovers and won despite shooting 0-for-13 from 3-point range. The Roadrunners scored 48 points in the paint.
McCall tweaked the defense heading into Thursday’s game and it appeared to pay off. He gave his defense a 75 percent rating.
Next, CSUB will host New Mexico State on Saturday at 1 p.m.