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|UC Merced (Calif.)||7||13||13||24||57|
|Benedictine - Mesa (Ariz.||15||19||12||10||56|
|Feb. 27, 2017|
|UC Merced (Calif.)||Indv. Leaders||Benedictine - Mesa (Ariz.|
|#12 Brittany Martinez - 17||Points||#11 Emily Moore - 17|
|#12 Brittany Martinez - 13||Rebounds||#11 Emily Moore - 9|
|2 Players (#11,#14) - 4||Assists||#4 Alexis Todd - 4|
|UC Merced (Calif.)||Team Statistics||Benedictine - Mesa (Ariz.|
|32.8% (21 - 64)||Field Goals %||51.2% (22 - 43)|
|23.8% (5 - 21)||3 Point Field Goals %||50% (1 - 2)|
|62.5% (10 - 16)||Free Throws||73.3% (11 - 15)|
|0||2nd Chance Pts||0|
Sometimes, it only takes one point.
For three quarters, the three-peat seemed out of reach for the University of California, Merced women's basketball team. Then, a stop here, a three-pointer there, and all of a sudden the game was tied with just seconds left on the clock. With Deja Jackson stepping to the line for a pair with under two seconds left, she calmly sunk the first. A tipped rebound off the second free-throw started the clock, then ended the game as UC Merced walked away with a thrilling 57-56 victory over Benedictine University at Mesa. The Bobcats are champions of the Cal Pac Conference for the third straight year.
It was an uncharacteristically slow first three quarters for UC Merced. The Bobcats scored just 20 points through the first 20 minutes, and gave up 46 through three quarters. Then the fourth quarter happened.
Sometimes, it just takes a big moment for big players to step up. Such was the case with Courtney Danna. The senior guard had just two points through the first three quarters, but stepped up with the game on the line, scoring 12 of the team's 24 points over the final ten minutes.
The team scratched, clawed, and fought all fourth quarter. Then, the breakthrough.
Trailing 52-44 with just over five minutes remaining, UC Merced went on a season-defining run. Danna and Brittany Martinez combined for ten points in the next five minutes, propelling UC Merced to a 10-0 run. A pair of Mesa free-throws tied the game with 47 seconds left. Danna once again was ready for the challenge, burying shot to give UC Merced a 56-54 lead with 22 seconds left.
The pesky Redhawks wouldn't give up though. With 13 seconds left on the clock, they once again tied things up, this time at 56-56.
As the clock ticked ever closer to zero, UC Merced ran their offense for one last possession. Danna drove the lane and kicked it to Jackson in the corner. Jackson pump-faked, drove toward the middle and put up a floater that clanked off the front rim…but only because she got fouled.
With 1.3 seconds, Jackson stepped to the line for two free-throws with the weight of the entire season on her shoulders. The ball went up on her first shot, seemed to hang in the air for minutes…
Then swished right through the basket to give UC Merced the 57-56 lead.
Jackson's second free-throw hit the side of the rim, forcing a scrum for the loose ball. That probably worked to UC Merced's advantage though, as the clock started running at the first touch of the ball. Before anyone could gain possession, the final horn sounded and the Bobcats were champions once again.
After shooting 27% over the first three quarters, UC Merced found their stride in the biggest moments, shooting 47% in the fourth, including 3-4 from long range. They also finally won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding Mesa 10-4 in the final ten minutes.
Brittany Martinez finished the game with a monster double-double, posting 17 points and 13 rebounds in the victory. Nine of those rebounds were on the offensive end. Danna finished with 14 points while adding four assists and three steals.
After the game, the three-time champion Danna had much to say about the victory.
"Winning three championships in my college career is absolutely surreal," Danna said. "There are no words that can describe how I'm feeling right now. I'm so grateful for this team and how much we pushed through adversity this past year. Two years ago we wrote a similar story: 4th place, knocking off the first seed in semis, then winning the championship. History always repeats itself."
As for the player with the game-winning shot? Her quote will echo through UC Merced for the rest of program history.
"It only takes one point," Jackson said. "It only takes one point!"
UC Merced brings home the Cal Pac Conference Championship trophy for the third straight year, clinching another spot in the NAIA National Championship Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. All information regarding tournament opponents and times will be shared once they're announced.