The women’s basketball team opened the preseason with a 69-65 win over visiting Menlo College Thursday, Nov. 5, but not without some late-game drama.
With under a minute left in regulation and leading by only five points, the Gators had three chances to inbound the ball and run out the clock but were unable to get a successful inbound on any try. The Gators had one timeout left, but coach Dennis Cox elected not to use it.
“I kept [the timeout] in my pocket just in case things really got hairy,” Cox said. “As long as we had a two-possession game, I felt like I could save it. I was confident they could work it out.”
Although the team couldn’t make the inbound, they still played defense. In the final 30 seconds, they defended two missed shots and caused a turnover. Menlo hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to make it a four-point game, but it was too late.
The Gators applied constant pressure, utilizing a full-court press defense after every basket SF State made. The team caused 25 turnovers and three backcourt violations, something Cox said was a rarity last year.
“I don’t remember getting a backcourt violation last year,” Cox said.
Guard Felicia Villarruel was especially relentless, pressuring the ball carrier after every inbound from baseline to baseline. Villarruel caught fire in the second half, hitting three 3-pointers and giving the Gators a 35-25 halftime lead.
Villarruel ended the night as the leading scorer for SF State, with 16 points, and shot 4-9 from the 3-point line.
“I started off kind of cold, but I didn’t get discouraged, so I kept shooting and started feeling it,” Villarruel said. “I try to be very selective with my shots, but if I’m feeling it, I’ll shoot it.”
Menlo College came out swinging in the second half and tied the game at 36 only four minutes into the third period. The Gators committed three turnovers and two fouls in the opening minutes of the second half.
One disadvantage to the full court press is that, once Menlo was able to get by the Gators’ initial defenders, Menlo usually had a 3-on-1 or 3-on-2 player advantage and was able to score easy layups.
“[Menlo] knew they didn’t play their best in the first half,” Cox said. “We kind of took that blow and stabilized ourselves. We played a pretty good fourth quarter.”
The team was able to weather the storm with good defense and took the lead back with a 3-pointer by Trayona Thomas.
The Gators only shot 35.2 percent from the field, but they controlled the ball for over 75 percent of the game.
The Gators finished the game the same way they started, with suffocating defense and strong rebounding. They constantly forced Menlo to under five seconds on the shot clock and didn’t let up throughout the entire game.
“It does get tiring when you press, it takes a lot of energy,” said forward Laura Lawson. “You go to go after every loose ball, try and get the steal, make sure they don’t get to the basket easy, and when you’re in the trap it’s just going be a lot of energy.”
Cox said he thinks the team is still a work in progress but is happy with the result tonight and was able to sum up the night.
“We’ll take it, it was a good start,” Cox said.