Cal's big (wo)man dominates titanic matchup
It was billed as a battle of titans. Two NCAA Division II women's basketball programs, with a combined record of 12-1, on the verge of national recognition.
California (Pa.) and West Liberty State, sporting what are believed to be the tallest women's players in Division II history, squared off in a non-conference game of huge proportions Monday night.
When it was over, California took advantage of cold-shooting West Liberty State and scored a lopsided 69-47 victory, avenging last season's 14-point loss to the Hilltoppers.
"It was a great women's basketball atmosphere. It was good, clean, aggressive basketball. It was sloppy," said California coach Darcie Vincent, the former Duquesne University star, who led the Vulcans to a school-record 19 victories last season in her first year as coach.
The highly anticipated matchup between centers Jaana Kotova of West Liberty State and Susie Gyfaras of California fizzled from the start. The 6-foot-11 Kotova, who recently returned to the lineup after recovering from a broken finger, came in averaging 17 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game. The 6-9 Gyfaras (11.5 ppg., 6.6 rpg.) dominated the low post, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and adding seven assists, three steals and two blocked shots for California.
"We said, 'Susie, it's all yours,' and she did it," Vincent said. "She's got a great outside shot. For the first time, I think, in her career, Jaana had no blocks and only four rebounds."
Though Gyfaras shot just 6 of 15, she held Kotova to 3-of-8 shooting and seven points. Without having to face Gyarfas last season, Kotova posted a triple-double in the victory over California.
West Liberty State (4-1), which won 25 games and reached the second round of the Division II East Region playoffs last season, shot just 31 percent, including 3 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We put a lot of emphasis on this game," Vincent said.
California improved to 8-1, but posted only its third victory against teams with a record of .500 or better.
"This game could go a long way come playoff time," Vincent said.
Prior to the start of the game, Kotova and Gyarfas posed for pictures. Both attended Seminole (Fla.) Junior College before transferring north a year apart.
"Before and after the game, they spent time talking, but during the game, it was all business," Vincent said. "I truly believe Susie outplayed Jaana. She didn't play soft. She played physical."
Lost in the Kotova-Gyarfas hype was Sameera Philyaw's team-leading 16 points for California. Philya shot 7 for 12 - the Vulcans finished at 50 percent (30 of 60) as a team from the field - and grabbed six rebounds. West Liberty State point guard Kelly West entered the game as the nation's leader in assists (11 per game) but was limited to two.
"We're putting our emphasis on the region for now," Vincent said. "We're not thinking national yet, but hopefully, that will come for both teams. West Liberty State is a 20-win team. For us to get to where they are, we have to beat a 20-win team."
The Gannon women's basketball team's 81-63 victory over Slippery Rock on Saturday represented the Golden Knights' 17th consecutive home victory, which is the sixth-longest current home winning streak among NCAA Division II schools.
Gannon is among three district teams - West Liberty State and California (Pa.) are the others - receiving votes in the Women's College Basketball Association Division II poll. No. 5 Shippensburg is the lone nationally ranked team from the district.
Dave Mackall's Small-college2Day notebook appears Wednesdays in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.