UC Davis rallies from 17 down to win Big West women’s title
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Cal Davis saved its biggest comeback in nearly eight years for the perfect time.
The Aggies trailed Hawaii 39-22 with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter on Saturday before rallying to capture their first Big West Conference Women’s Tournament title in eight years, defeating the Rainbow Wahine 58-50.
“To say we faced some adversity is a bit of an understatement. We either were going to stand up to them and their pressure or we were going to go home disappointed,” UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross said. “We came up with some big stops and big plays to turn the momentum back.”
Tournament MVP Morgan Bertsch led the Aggies (25-6) with 24 points and Cierra Hall added 14. UC Davis — which is headed to the NCAA Women’s Tournament for the first time since 2011 — has won a program record 15 straight and 22 of its last 23.
The last time UC Davis rallied from 17 down to win was on Dec. 20, 2011. Its opponent? Hawaii.
UC Davis came in as the tournament’s top seed after winning its third straight regular-season title, but lost in the semifinals in 2017 and final last year. Bertsch said the combination of falling short and rallying made this win more special.
“To have lost it twice and having felt like you should have won it all those years is hard. But being able to take that punch, knock down that lead and cut the net after felt amazing,” Bertsch said.
The Aggies trailed 45-36 early in the fourth quarter but scored 16 straight points during a 9:12 span. Sophia Song gave UC Davis the lead for good on a 3-pointer with 4:18 remaining in what ended up being her only shot of the game.
Bertsch, who is the Big West’s player of the year and was named the tournament’s MVP, scored six points during the run and Hall added four. The Rainbow Wahine missed their last 12 shots from the field and had four turnovers during the run.
“That was a massive 3,” said Bertsch of Song’s basket. “We were getting stops and coming back little by little but that gave us so much momentum and was a huge change for us.”
UC Davis was 7 of 27 from the field in the first half but went 13 of 25 over the final 20 minutes. Hawaii made nine of its first 18 but was 9 of 40 the rest of the game, including 5 of 25 in the second half.
Tia Kanoa led second-seeded Hawaii (15-16) with 15 points and Leah Salanoa scored 14.
“They knew we had the opportunity to win this and a little bit of pressure from Davis in the second half really affected us,” Hawaii coach Laura Beeman said. “The basket got really small and the lights got really bright.”
Bertsch scored the Aggies first six points and gave them a 6-5 lead before Hawaii went on a 17-4 run the remainder of the quarter to take control. Kanoa had 10 points in the quarter, including a 3-ponter that gave the Rainbow Wahine a 22-10 advantage at the end of the first.
UC Davis missed all six shots from the field during the run and committed four turnovers while Hawaii was 7-of-12 shooting.
Hawaii led 32-18 at halftime and was up by as many as 17 early in the third quarter when the Aggies started to rally. They went on a 14-3 run to close the third as Bertsch scored five points to get within 42-36.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Wahine committed only three turnovers during the first half but were sloppy during the second half as they had eight turnovers and committed 16 personal fouls.
UC Davis: This is the Aggies’ third straight postseason appearance after appearing in the WNIT the past two years.
Hawaii: The school announced after the game it has accepted a spot in the WNIT.
UC Davis: Finds out its NCAA Women’s Tournament destination on Monday.