Many times, mid-major small schools get overlooked and counted out before the NCAA Women’s National Invitational Tournament brackets are even posted on national websites.
The Pacific Tigers Women’s basketball team, a.k.a. the “Cardiac Kids” from Stockton, Calif. are changing that mindset, as they’ve reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school’s history after defeating the University of Washington 85-78 in the second round of the WNIT.
The highlight of the story is that 32 Division I NCAA women’s basketball teams are still playing basketball, and the Tigers are one of them.
The Tigers will face the Utah Utes Thursday night at the Alex G. Spanos Center in the third round of the WNIT, and will be looking to improve on their 14-2 home record in front of the spirited Tigers' fan base.
“Cardiac Kids” is the best way to describe the Tigers, because they never quit and always push Tigers head coach Lynne Roberts to the edge every time they take the floor.
When asked if it was her toughest year coaching,Roberts responded,“Yes, it is, because I have to deal with so much emotion, and it’s not bad emotion that’s conduct detrimental to the team, it’s good emotion because it carries a desire to win.”
The biggest emotional player for Roberts has been her junior point guard Gena Johnson, who was converted from the wing position to the point guard spot in her sophomore season. “She plays great
and I feel she finally gets it,” Roberts said. “Then she’ll play the next game and she’ll let her emotions get the best of her.”
Johnson is the catalyst of the “Cardiac Kids” Tigers’ machine, and she’s a scouting nightmare for opponents’ coaches' preparation to defend.
Johnson is difficult to press because of her ball-handling skills, and her dribble penetration into the paint draws defenders off the ball and puts the Tigers’ excellent three-point shooters, seniors Kendall Rodriguez and Erica McKenzie, in wide-open positions to knock down shots.
McKenzie has no limits on her shooting range because on one possession, she might shoot from 22 feet, and the next she’ll let it fly from 36 feet and nail the shot.
Rodriguez is an enforcer who plays hard and physical on the defensive end and gracefully on the offensive end as she out-thinks her opponents.
The emergence of 6' 4" sophomore Kendall Kenyon has been a big surprise for the Tigers, as she has had multiple games of 20-plus rebounds and is shooting an outstanding 55 percent from the field
The athletic playing ability of senior Ashley Wakefield has been a nightmare for defenders this season, and her offensive rebounding has been a big factor in the postseason.
The entire starting five were AllBig West Conference selections, led by Rodriguez and Erica McKenzie, who were first-team selections. Johnson and sophomore Kenyon earned second-team nominations, Wakefield was an honorable mention and Roberts was the Big West Conference Coach of the Year.
The biggest surprise for the Tigers has been the bench play of the reserves Kristina Johnson, Ashley Smith, Sam Pettinger, Briana Johnson, Claire Conricode, Hailie Eackles and Shanice Butler. Roberts has been allowed to play a 12-woman rotation and even have five reserves on the floor at once in critical moments with the games on the line.
Roberts is no stranger to postseason tournament success, as she led the Chico State women’s basketball team to the Division-II Final Four in 2006 while posting a28-4 record.
She had a plan to reach this level of success and it started with scheduling tougher preseason opponents over the past two seasons to get the Tigers mentally tough and battle tested against top competition.
The Tigers have faced the University of Connecticut and Stanford women’s basketball teams on the road in front of hostile crowds, and both opposing teams were ranked No. 1 in the NCAA women's
basketball polls at the time they took the floor.
The Tigers lost both contests, but the team had moments when they out-played the top ranked opponents and gained the confidence necessary to play against anyone in the country
Roberts had an interesting postgame response last year when asked why she scheduled tough Division I competition in the preseason; “I don’t really understand your question,” Roberts said. “We’re all Division I teams.”
She clearly understood that to be the best, you have to play the best in the nation to gain an edge in the postseason tournaments.
The Tigers are having a record-breaking year for the Pacific women’s basketball program, and the “Cardiac Kids”amazing run continues as they make their quest to become 2013 Women’s National
Invitational champions when they face Utah at 6 p.m. Thursday March 28 6 p.m. at the Alex
G. Spanos Center in Stockton.
"Michael Walker is an Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand" to the very end of the article.