The NAIA top-ranked Westmont women’s basketball team trailed Pac-12 opponent Cal by one point entering the fourth quarter before the Golden Bears pulled away to an 81-62 victory in an exhibition game on Thursday at Haas Pavilion.
“I am proud of the fact that no matter who we are playing, my team can walk on the floor, believe we can win and fight to win,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “They can do that no matter what we are up against. No matter what the height differential or what is ‘supposed to happen’. The team has great belief in each other and our ability to do whatever it takes to win.”
Stefanie Berberabe, last season’s NAIA National Player of the Year, led three Warriors in double figures with 16 points and added four assists. She made seven of 13 from the field and 2 of 3 from 3-point range. Laila Saenz, a red-shirt freshman, produced 12 points by draining four long-range baskets. Iyree Jarrett delivered 10 points and four assists. Sydney Brown grabbed 11 rebounds and scored nine points, and sophomore Aleena Cook accounted for nine points and six rebounds.
“We recruited Laila knowing she could make an immediate impact for us,” said the veteran coach. “Unfortunately, due to injury last year, she wasn’t able to get on the court for us. I think we saw glimpses tonight of how huge a role she will have the ability to play for us. She has a great feel for the game, plays with a high IQ, can score at three levels, and defends too. I think she will keep developing as she gets experience, but she played like an experienced player tonight and not like it was her first time playing college basketball.”
With 1:02 remaining before intermission, Saenz drained her third 3-point field goal of the quarter to give Westmont an eight-point lead (42-34).
In the third quarter, the Bears erupted for a 20-1 run to surge ahead 54-43.
Westmont rallied in the final two minutes, producing a 13-2 run to close within one (57-56). Jarrett connected for two 3-pointers during the resurgence while Berberabe and Cook each added a field goal. Brown capped off the run with a buzzer-beating three.
Unfortunately, the Warriors were unable to keep the momentum going in the final frame and found themselves outscored 24-6.
“I am so proud of them,” said Moore of her team, “but I feel that if we had been at full strength, we would have been able to maintain that level longer. Obviously, Cal stepped it up in the second half, but we ran out of steam.”
The Warriors were without the services of Kaitlin Larson and Gabriella Stoll tonight, two noticeable absences in Westmont’s inside game.
Westmont will remain in Northern California and open regular season play on Saturday afternoon with a non-conference game against UC Merced (1-1).