By Pete Chiodo
Jada Blackwell borrowed a winter coat from her boss, who, helpfully, is from Pennsylvania. Her teammate, Ashley Lovett, went so far as to wear her borrowed coat at practice for a couple days just to get used to it.
“We have a couple pictures of it,” said their coach, Danelle Bishop.
Leaving behind the comparatively tropical climate of Southern California, the ladies of the Cal Poly Pomona women’s basketball team had more than just the other teams to prepare for as they made the 2,500-mile journey to Erie for this week’s NCAA Division II Elite Eight tournament.
“People on the elevator were like, ‘How are you adjusting (to the weather)?’ And I was like, ‘No,’” said Lovett. “We’re staying inside, turning on the heater, coats on. “
And yet, judging by the way the Lady Broncos played Edinboro during the quarterfinal round on Tuesday at Erie Insurance Arena, the driving snow a sub-freezing temps had little effect on the West Coast crew. In fact, it was the local Lady Scots that looked a bit frigid, shooting an uncharacteristically low 36.4 percent from the floor while falling to Pomona 81-61.
“Disappointing to end our season on a loss,” said Edinboro head coach Stan Swank. “Unless you win a national championship you’re going to end on a loss. That’s disappointing.”
The Fighting Scots end their season with a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title, a Division II Atlantic Region title and a record of 27-6.
“I’m just so thrilled and proud of this group of young ladies,” Swank added. “They just played a tremendous season and accomplished so many great things. It’s probably the most fun team I’ve ever coached. They get along, they bonded together so well, they’re just fun to be around. And I’m more disappointed than they are because its over. I want it to keep going. I’d like to have practice next week and stay with them.”
The Broncos, meanwhile, improve to 26-6 and advance to today’s Final Four round where they will face Bentley, a 74-66 winner over Drury in last night’s late quarterfinal.
“Edinboro,” said Bishop, “was just a solid team. Obviously all the teams that are here have been solid. And so we have to give (Edinboro) a lot of credit. They took away a lot in the first half of what we talk about staying disciplined in. We just regrouped at halftime and talked about just playing Bronco basketball. And I’m really proud of my girls for sticking together.”
Edinboro actually started out as the hotter of the two teams, hitting five of their first seven attempts from the floor, including all three 3-point tries — two by Laurel Lindsey and a third by Lauren Hippo. And the Lady FIghting Scots found themselves up 13-4 with just four and a half minutes elapsed in the first half.
Pomona, however, spread out its zone defense, effectively slowing down Edinboro’s perimeter shooters. After Edinboro made its first three treys, the added just one more out of their next 15 attempts. The Scots came into the game shooting almost 40 percent from the arc, yet made just 22.2 percent (4-for-18) last night.
“Sometimes your shot just doesn’t fall,” said Edinboro junior Valerie Majewski. “I think that’s what was happening for us (on Tuesday).”
And forcing the ball inside wasn’t any easier for Edinboro, not with the 6-foot-1 All-American center Blackwell and her 6-foot counterpart Lovett guarding the bucket.
“We just had to come out and buckle down and not let anyone get in the paint easy,” said Lovett. “That’s our area. So they’re going to have to come through us and it’s not going to be easy.”
So, Edinboro’s offense went stagnant. Meanwhile, the Broncos got nice and toasty. They started dishing the ball inside to Blackwell, who layed in the first couple shots for what would end up being a remarkable night for the junior.
‘Boro’s defense squeezed in to put some pressure on Blackwell. But then Broncos guard J.J. Judge started popping it in from downtown, hitting back-to-back treys and then driving the lane for a deuce to put the finishing touches on a 17-5 run. The Broncos now led 24-18 with 8:18 to play. They would never look back.
The rest of the first half was back and forth. Edinboro went into the break trailing 33-28.
Blackwell ended the half with 13 points and six boards. Judge and forward Ashley Lovett had eight points each.
Edinboro was led by Lindsey who, even while playing with an illness, finished the half with three treys and nine points. Freeland scored eight points and had six rebounds.
“I felt good that we were only down five at the half,” said Swank. “We were right there and I felt like we could get after it again.”
During the second half, however, Cal Poly Pomona pulled away. And Blackwell continued to lead the charge, dominating under the hoop.
“She’s just unbelievably strong,” Swank said about Blackwell. “”I mean, I think she could carry two or three people with her underneath the basket if she had to. She’s a tremendous player.”
Along with her 13 points in the first half, she put up 22 in the second to finish with a career-high 35. She was 12-for-23 from the floor, including a 3, and was 10-for-13 at the foul line. She also had four blocks. And her and Lovett led the Broncos with nine rebounds each.
Lovett chipped in with 14 points. Judge finished with 13.
For Edinboro, Freeland posted an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double to lead the Lady Scots. Lindsey and Darché Jackson both scored 11. Jackson also led the team with four steals and four assists.