Women's Basketball: Lions return to throne

Ballestero shines to help No. 8-ranked Vanguard top No. 3 Westmont and claim 11th GSAC title.

March 05, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • The Vanguard University women's basketball team celebrates the victory over Westmont College after the Golden State Athletic Conference championship game at Concordia University.
The Vanguard University women's basketball team… (Don Leach, Daily…)

IRVINE — When it came time to tally the titles, Vanguard University women's basketball coach Russ Davis was suddenly at a loss for details. It was attention to detail, however, that helped the No. 8-ranked Lions upset the No. 3-ranked Warriors, 63-57, in the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament final on Tuesday at Concordia University.

It was the 11th GSAC crown of Davis' 17-season tenure, but the first in three years, as the Lions (23-3) earned the conference's guaranteed berth in the NAIA Division I tournament field, with action in Frankfort, Ky., from March 13-19. It will be Vanguard's 14th trip to the national tournament, all under Davis.

Among the minutia mastered this time by Davis' squad, which had dropped both regular-season meetings to Westmont (66-56 at home on Jan. 15 and 70-58 in Santa Barbara on Feb. 5), was more sound inside positioning, absolute intensity from tip to buzzer, better shooting and more efficient defense.


But another alteration was the production of junior all-conference guard Nicole Ballestero, who made eight of 13 field-goal tries (61.5%), including two of four from three-point range, on her way to a game-high 22 points. Ballestero, who had shot a combined 28.9% from the field in the first two Westmont games (11 for 38), including one for seven from threedom (14.3%), found her range about five minutes in. That range was typically away from the size and strength of the Westmont bigs, including two-time conference and 2012 NAIA Player of the Year Tugce Canitez, and inside the aggressive and athletic Westmont guards.

"I like the mid-range, but I take what they give me," said Ballestero, who added nine rebounds.

"Ballestero was fantastic tonight," said Westmont Coach Kirsten Moore. "She set the tone in the first half. Both [previous] times we played them, she really struggled, percentage-wise, from the field. We switched to the zone in the second half and had more success, but we were struggling to guard her tonight."

Ballestero had 13 first-half points to help the designated visitors earn a 39-31 intermission advantage, despite losing the rebounding battle, 18-11, at the half, including nine offensive rebounds for the Warriors.

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