It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, and it sure didn’t finish on time—but in the end, the Long Beach State women’s basketball team got it done. Despite trailing by eight points with under four minutes to play, the 49ers battled back and sent it to overtime, where they defeated UC Irvine in their Big West conference opener, 84-75.

“We left a lot of points on the board,” said 49ers coach Jody Wynn, referring to her team’s 16-32 performance at the free throw line, “but I’m proud that we pulled it out in overtime.”

Down 69-61 with 3:57 to play, Wynn called timeout. “I told them, ‘We’re going to win this game,’” she said. “We didn’t want anyone to be afraid to shoot if they were open.”

They closed the gap quickly, with a 6-0 run, then tied it on a pair of free throws by freshman Raven Benton. After the Anteaters took another lead at the charity stripe, Benton buried a jump with 43 seconds in regulation to tie it. With neither team able to muster another bucket, the game went to overtime.

There, the 49ers started on a 7-0 run, with points from Jade Wilson, Madison Montgomery, and Alex Sanchez. Benton effectively put the game away when, with a five-point lead, she stuffed Irvine’s Kelly Meggs, then put in a layup to give Long Beach State a seven-point lead. Despite several missed free throws down the stretch (seven consecutive at one point), the 49ers’ defense was up to the task.

Benton was a good version of the 49ers in miniature, struggling for the early part of the game but gathering herself for some huge plays down the stretch, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds, both high marks for the 49ers.

“She’s confident,” said Wynn of the freshman. “She doesn’t get rattled, she was just mad at herself, but she’s a gamer. She’s proven it in her short time here.”

“Our coaches always tell us to reset,” said Benton. “They talked me through it—winning this game shows that we have heart, we were able to pull through it together.”

Irvine head coach ____ planned to pound the ball inside against the height-challenged 49ers, but Long Beach State not only handled that plan, they turned it on its head. The win was their best rebounding effort of the season, as they grabbed 25 offensive rebounds, and had 20 more boards than Irvine total.

“That saved us,” said Wynn. “When we were down, we knew we had to have those offensive boards to get us back into it.” The 49ers finished with 46 points in the paint to the Anteaters’ 20. After Benton, their leading scorer was Sanchez, with 14 points.

The 49ers (9-6, 1-0) now hit the road for a game at UC Davis on Saturday, at 2 p.m. 

Sports Guy Mike Guardabascio has been writing professionally for a decade, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards and is the author of the historical book "Football in Long Beach."

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