Cinderella was an apt description for St. Joseph’s, Cal Poly Pomona’s opponent Wednesday night in the teams’ NCAA Elite Eight opening round game. The Pumas entered NCAA play as the eighth seed in the Central Region and went on to reach the upper echelon of NCAA play this season with three straight upset victories.
But the Broncos weren’t about to let this postseason’s darling advance any further than Wednesday night.
Cal Poly Pomona took control early, scoring the game’s first eight points and never trailed in its 69-48 victory over the Pumas at the MassMutual Center.
Senior Austin Swift, the NCAA West Region’s Most Outstanding Player, and freshman reserve Mitchel Anderson each scored a game-high 13 points as the Broncos dominated in every phase of their game.
The Broncos will face Bentley in the NCAA Elite Eight semifinals at 8:30 p.m. EDT Thursday night. The Falcons (26-6) defeated Augusta State 67-64. The 2010 Player of the Year Jason Westrol scored a game-high 23 points in the victory.
“I think our guys came out with confidence tonight,” said head coach Greg Kamansky. “Defensively, we locked them down and took the wind out of their sails early. I think we played well tonight. We shot well, but our defense definitely took them out of the game.”
Senior All-CCAA guard Dahir Nasser scored 11 points, and sophomore Dwayne Fells added 10.
The Pumas (20-12) presented a problem with their dribble penetration and ability to score on runs. But Cal Poly Pomona never allowed St. Joseph’s into a rhythm and shut down Pumas’ freshman Dayvon Sloan. The Louisville, Ky., native who scored 45 points in their regional title victory – all after the opening 20 minutes — finished with a team-high nine and scored just one 3-pointer.
After Austin Peebles drew the Pumas inside 10 points at 14-6 with 11:33 remaining in the first, Cal Poly Pomona completely shut them down for the remainder of the game.
The Broncos did not allow a field goal again until Jake Hessler scored on a layup inside the final second of the half and Cal Poly Pomona went into halftime leading, 36-14.
This was a night where the Broncos dominated on ends of the court. CPP shot 60.7 percent from the floor (17-of-28) in the opening 20 minutes and had five players with five or more points.
The second half saw CPP lead by as many as 33 points when Nasser hit the front end of a two-shot foul that put the Broncos up 67-34 with 4:55 left.
Pumas coach Richard Davis couldn’t help but be impressed by the Broncos’ defensive effort; namely their match-up zone defense.
“It is tough to simulate that kind of pressure, especially in a week and a half,” he said. “They took away a lot of our looks and got their hands in the lanes. That made it tough for us to take some good shots.
“On the other hand, we missed some open looks and I think that had to do with nerves.”
That Swift and Nasser were at the forefront wasn’t a surprise. Both players have had statement seasons this year after the Broncos finished as last season’s national finalist, losing to top-ranked Findley on a last-second shot in overtime.
“It was a key motivating factor,” said Swift about his team returning to the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons. “(Dahir) and I worked out together and talked about it every day during the summer. That was all we talked about, getting back to here.”
Nasser his eight of his 11 points in the first half. He has started in each of the Broncos’ 65 games over the last two seasons.
“Our goal is to get better every game,” he said. “We try to do that. We don’t worry about the score or whether we’re up or down. We are just trying to get better and stay focused.”
(Photo: Dahir Nasser gets a shot off during the Bronco’s CCAA tournament finals game loss against Cal State San Bernardino on March 6, 2010.)