Today was a spectacular day for New Zealand basketball with five Kiwis playing in NCAA Division 1 conference championship games and all five claiming titles. The wins also mean all four teams they are associated with will be playing in the NCAA Tournament next week as conference champions gain automatic selection.
The individual performance of the day again belongs to Tessa Boagni. The Cal State Northridge Matadors senior followed up yesterdays 19 points and 11 rebounds double in the Big West Conference semi-final with an equally impressive 23 points (9/16FG) and 8 rebounds effort in the championship game.
Boagni played all but two minutes as the Matadors beat UC Davis 63-55. In the four tournament games this week she has averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds per game – numbers that deservedly won her Tournament MVP honours.
Also on the winner’s podium was Jacinta Beckley as Seattle University Redhawks narrowly beat Cal State Bakersfield 57-54 to claim its first Western Athletic Conference title after making four appearances in the championship game since 2013.
Starting guard Beckley claimed 3 points, 6 rebounds and a steal in a ding-dong affair that saw 19 lead changes and 11 ties. Seattle will head to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in programme history.
Earlier in the day Krystal Leger-Walker and Tiarna Clarke were key players as Northern Colorado University Bears added the Big Sky Tournament trophy to the regular season championship with a convincing 91-69 win against Idaho.
Freshman guard Clarke scored 9 points (3/5 3PG) and sophmore Leger-Walker recorded 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals and a block in a typically composed display. It was a thirteenth straight win for NCU who are heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a confident mood.
Jack Salt flew the flag for the men. Like Northern Colorado, Virginia Cavaliers had already won the regular season title and today added the Atlantic Coast Tournament Championship to their trophy cabinet with a 73-61 win against North Carolina.
Salt’s return of 4 points (from his only two shots) and 2 rebounds in 22 minutes of action doesn’t appear overly significant but his screen setting, boxing out, running of the floor and high basketball IQ are much appreciated by Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.
“He’s unbelievable. He was named a captain this year as a third-year, which we usually don’t do eligibility-wise. So he’s just all heart, and he’ll do whatever you ask. That’s the way he was raised. And that’s how it is probably in New Zealand, right? You just fight and you don’t back down.”