ONTARIO — Cal State L.A. turned in another outstanding defensive effort Friday and will be making a second consecutive trip to the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament championship game.
The Golden Eagles limited Chico State to just 36.8 percent shooting and went on to beat the No. 1 seeds and regular-season CCAA champions 66-53 Friday in Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Cal State L.A. picked up its second win against Chico State in three meetings this season.
Tessondra Williams led the way with 24 points and an inspired defensive effort. Richelle Najera tied a season high with 14 points and six rebounds, while Chiara DiMarco had 11 points, including a big 3-pointer down the stretch that all but decided the outcome.
Jazmine Miller was outstanding for Chico State and spearheaded a late rally with 18 points. McKenzie Dalthorp added 11 points.
“We had a tremendous team effort and our defense really led the way,” Cal State L.A. head coach Janell Jones said. “In the middle of the season, we were in a four-game slide and I think a lot of people wrote us off. These girls are very resilient.”
The Golden Eagles shot 40 percent for the game (20-of-50) and limited the Wildcats to 36.8 percent shooting (21-of-57). Cal State L.A. was 5-of-15 from 3-point range, while Chico State was just 1-of-11 from behind the arc. The Golden Eagles took the battle of the boards 37-31, and had 19 turnovers to 18 for the Wildcats. Cal State L.A. was 21-of-24 from the free-throw line and Chico State was 10-of-11.
The Golden Eagles were in control for most of the game, trailing only once at 2-0. Cal State L.A. responded with an 11-0 run and never looked back. Najera scored two consecutive layups off passes from Paige Melville to take the lead and a 3-pointer by Williams made it 7-2. Williams scored on a driving layup and another layup by Najera made it 11-2.
Chico State responded and sliced the deficit to two points, but Williams scored five consecutive points to boost the lead back to seven points.
Cal State L.A. closed the half on an 8-0 run to take a 32-19 halftime lead. Maryum Jenkins had a steal and acrobatic layup to start the run, while Williams followed with a pair of free throws, Melville hit two free throws and Najera hit two free throws.
The Golden Eagles opened the second half with a pair of free throws to take their biggest lead, 34-29. Cal State L.A. still led by 14 points 46-32, after a layup by DiMarco with 11:51 left, but Chico State then began to steadily chip away at the Golden Eagles’ lead. A driving layup by Miller brought the Wildcats to within four points, 55-51, with 2:41 to play, but DiMarco calmly hit a 3-pointer on Cal State L.A.’s next trip down the floor to boost the lead back to seven, 58-51.
Williams then hit a 3-pointer to give the Golden Eagles a 61-51 lead with 57 seconds to play and the Golden Eagles hit five free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
After the Wildcats cut the lead to four points, Cal State L.A. closed the game with a 11-2 run.
DiMarco’s clutch 3-pointer started that run.
“All of us came here for one reason,” Najera said. “We want it so bad.”
“It means a lot to make it back [to the championship game] for a second year in a row,” Williams said. “I’m just excited we’re playing another game.”
The Golden Eagles are in search of their first women’s basketball title.