UC MERCED, CA – The University of California, Merced women’s basketball team was on a mission Thursday night. With a victory over Simpson University, the team would clinch the #1 seed in the Cal Pac Conference Tournament for the first time in program history. Answering to the call, five different Bobcats scored in double-figures on the way to a 77-66 victory.
Jecenia Trinidad had her third double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds in the win. Joining her in the double-digit scoring group were Shelby Howard (14 points), Christina Castro (13 points, six assists), Brittany Martinez (13 points, eight rebounds), and Allison Wisdom(13 points). Coming just short of double-figures was Courtney Danna, who ended the game with eight points, four assists, and three rebounds.
UC Merced trailed early in the game, and headed into halftime trailing 43-41. The two-point deficit was only made possible by Castro catching fire for the first 20 minutes. The reigning Freshman of the Year didn’t miss the entire half, going 4-4 from deep for 12 points.
“T (Christina) really stepped up big for us off the bench tonight,” coachSarah Hopkins-Chery said of Castro’s first-half performance. “We’ve been waiting for that type of game and it happened tonight. We always knew she could put up those numbers.”
A team is always looking to clinch their spot in the playoffs as early in the year as possible, so it was no surprise when they Bobcats came out in the second half ready to get down to business. The payoff of that attitude was immediate, as UC Merced dominated the third quarter, ending the 10-minute period on a 12-5 run.
Simpson would cut the lead to just two points on a quick made basket to start the fourth quarter, but smelling blood in the water, UC Merced closed out the second-place team in the Cal Pac, never allowing the Red Hawks to get any closer than that two-point deficit.
After the game, a satisfied Hopkins-Chery was quick to spread the credit for the historic victory to her team.
“It’s great for the program for us to make this kind of progress,” she said. “We had five players in double-figures, Jecenia with a double-double, and the defense was good. Really everyone after the first half grinded it out and continued to work hard. It’s a great win for us.”
While the team has clinched a historic #1 seed in the playoffs, the season is far from over for the top pick in the preseason poll. They finish the year with two more road games.
This Saturday, the team hits the road for a matchup with Pacific Union College. That game will start an hour earlier than usual, tipping at 6:30 PM.