Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
SAN DIMAS — As of an hour before Thursday’s tip-off at Life Pacific, The Master’s University women’s basketball team hadn’t discussed at length the opportunity that lay ahead.
Coach Dan Waldeck had mentioned to the No. 5-ranked Mustangs that they could clinch at least a share of the Golden State Athletic Conference title with a win over the Warriors. But that was about the extent of it.
“Until you do it, it doesn’t really matter,” Waldeck said, “and we want to enjoy the process.”
Several hours later, the Mustangs had settled the matter with an 81-40 win and could enjoy the first GSAC regular season title in program history.
Arizona Christian’s simultaneous loss at Menlo College made it an outright crown.
Since joining the GSAC before the 2001-2002 season, Master’s has finished second four times, twice by one game, but not this year.
“It’s something we knew we were capable of doing from the first day we had everyone together,” said guard Brooke Bailey. “We knew this team was going to be special.”
Four Mustangs scored in double figures Thursday, and the team led by as many as 49. Master’s (24-5, 15-2 in GSAC) held the Warriors (1-26, 0-17) to 12 points in the first half.
TMU’s Stephanie Soares scored 16 points with 13 rebounds and five blocks. Brooke Bailey had 14 points, Hannah Ostrom had 11 and Hannah Forrar contributed 10 for the Mustangs, who gathered inside their locker room afterward to watch on a smartphone as Menlo held off a late Arizona Christian rally.
“Then we screamed and went crazy,” said Bailey, whose team avoided losing consecutive games, something it hasn’t done all season.
Waldeck pointed to the coachable nature of his team as a key to avoiding back-to-back defeats.
This time, that meant acknowledging a lackluster showing on the boards and a lack of energy on offense at Westmont on Saturday, when the Mustangs scored a season-low 46 points and had their 15-game win streak snapped. TMU didn’t wallow.
Waldeck said Master’s “got after it” in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We pushed them hard on Tuesday especially, and they responded really well,” he said. “Wednesday, we didn’t need to push them hard, and it was like a rebirth. Sometimes you need a little wake-up call. We were feisty Wednesday.”
“We looked like the team that had won 15 in a row,” said Waldeck.
This wasn’t the first time Master’s responded positively to a loss.
The Mustangs’ season turned for the better after a Dec. 1 loss at Arizona Christian, a defeat that dropped TMU to 5-3. Waldeck believes the game helped cement TMU’s identity.
“Sometimes when you lose to a great team it can shake who you are and make you question,” said Waldeck. “Or it can solidify it. For us, it solidified who we needed to become.”
That was, in part, a team that used its exceptional length to better defend the rim and the perimeter. Master’s has since developed into one of the nation’s best defensive teams, winning 19 of its 21 games since that early December loss.
Entering Thursday, the Mustangs ranked top three nationally in scoring defense (50.6 point per game) and opponent field goal percentage (31 percent).
They held Life Pacific to 32 percent from the floor, 25 percent from three and turned 20 turnovers into 18 points.
With 30 seconds remaining, Waldeck shuffled down the sideline, high-fiving each player and uttering a phrase no team in program history has been able to before. “GSAC champs,” he said.
Here’s the box score.
The Mustangs will host No. 9 Vanguard at TMU on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in the regular season finale.