Cal women dealt first loss

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CALIFORNIA – Though they were knocked out of the NCAA Division II Top 25 rankings last week for the first time in nearly two years, the Edinboro University women’s basketball team is not ready to give up its lofty position as the team to beat the PSAC’s West Division.


And judging by the results from Saturday afternoon, finding a way to beat Edinboro remains a mystery to California.


Two-time defending PSAC champion Edinboro bounced back from a loss to PSAC East Division favorite Bloomsburg with an impressive, 70-51, victory over previously undefeated California at the Convocation Center.


With the exception of three first-half ties, two-time defending PSAC champion Edinboro (2-1, 5-2) led from start to finish and controlled play over the final 30 minutes. The Fighting Scots simply had too much poise, too much defense and, most important, too much size for California (2-1, 5-1).


With the Vulcans’ 6-3 center Elena Antonenko sitting out the game because of a thigh injury, Edinboro’s duo of 6-3 low-post players, senior Samantha Blazetic and freshman Aignee Freeland, dominated against the smaller Vulcans. The PSAC’s leading scorer, Blazetic had game highs of 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots. Freeland, making only her second career start, had 18 points. Blazetic and Freeland also contested and altered numerous Cal shots and were a general annoyance to the Vulcans’ offense..


“Height is a good thing,” Edinboro coach Stan Swank said. “You can’t teach 6-3. Freeland played a tremendous game. She doesn’t look like a freshman.”


Without Antonenko, Cal played much of the game on the perimeter but made only five of 21 three-point shots, missed 10 free throws and committed 22 turnovers. The Vulcans fell behind 33-23 at halftime and never generated enough offense to fuel a comeback.


“Having Antonenko obviously would have helped, but that’s not an excuse,” Cal coach Jess Strom said. “We beat West Chester, which has a 6-3 kid who is a good player. We didn’t play our game today. We didn’t play defense. We’re not very talented offensively, so when we don’t play defense it makes it very hard for us.”


Edinboro took command of the game with an 11-0 run in the first half that opened a 26-15 lead for the Fighting Scots. Edinboro held Cal scoreless during a six-minute stretch of the first half and without a field goal for a six-minute stretch in the second half. Cal shot only 26 percent for the game and never got closer than nine points in the second half.


“Our kids played very well,” Swank said. “The kids played with a lot of focus and intensity. They did a tremendous job defensively. I was concerned about Cal’s ability to play five guards, because they had been causing problems for people doing that. We did well against that, probably because our big kids are mobile.”


Neither team looked much like it did against common opponent Glenville State, which beat Edinboro by 19 points but lost by 47 points to Cal.


It was the seventh consecutive victory for Edinboro over Cal, and Strom didn’t like the Vulcans’ energy and confidence levels or the body language they showed during the game. Cal didn’t look like an undefeated team.


“For someone on the outside looking in, it had to look like we were scared,” she said. “Mentally, Edinboro has our number. It’s a mental block. We have to get over that entire thing. How do we do that? I don’t know. That’s what we have to figure out, because we’re going to see them again. We still have to go to their place, and we’ll likely see them in the (PSAC) playoffs. How we get over that mental hurdle is something we need to figure out.”


Strom is a former standout player at Penn State and was recently inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame for her career at Steel Valley High School. Losing seven times in a row to the same opponent is something Strom knows very little about.


“When I played, I was never scared. Nobody had that mental edge on me,” she said. “So this is something new for me to be around, but we need to get if figured out. We practice just as hard and well for Edinboro as anyone. But when it comes time for the game … ”


Ashley Hines came off the bench to lead Cal with 13 points. Irina Kukolj had 10 points.


Guard Kiara Brown scored 18 points for Edinboro and backcourt mate Darche’ Jackson had 12 assists.


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