CSUB’s early wins help open new arena | Sports

HENDERSON, Nev. – Whatever else happens for the men’s team at the Big West Conference tournament, the Roadrunner basketball teams may find themselves the answer to some trivia questions one day.

Maybe not the Trivial Pursuit kind, but at least the sort you’d see on an in-stadium video board during a break in the action.

That’s because this year’s conference tournament is the first-ever event to be held in the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev. And since both Cal State Bakersfield teams began as No. 9 seeds, they had to play in the first games of the first round of the tournament.

That meant that Jayden Eggleston, playing just outside her native Las Vegas, became the first player to ever score at the arena, with a reverse layup shortly after noon Tuesday against CSUN. And when Vanessa Austin banked in her overtime game-winner two hours later, the CSUB women became the arena’s first victors.

The men followed those accomplishments with a pair of Justin McCall free throws to open the first-ever men’s basketball game, and an eventual win of their own.

The milestones may seem trivial, but the Roadrunners said they used them as motivation throughout the week. There was women’s basketball coach Greg McCall, as the team boarded the bus for Henderson on Monday: “When that ball goes up we’ve made history right away… (Let’s) make sure that we come out with a win and be the first team to win in history. “

And then Austin, as she recounted after Tuesday’s game: “When we were in shootaround this morning, we were talking about, ‘Let’s be the first. Let’s be the first in the new arena. ‘”

The facility opened March 3 with a ribbon-cutting and State of the City speech from Henderson Mayor Debra March. It will be home to the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League (a division rival of the Bakersfield Condors) starting in April and the expansion Vegas Knight Hawks of the Indoor Football League beginning March 19. That cleared the way for the Big West to open things up.

The Las Vegas area is a familiar tournament site for the Roadrunners, because they played at Michelob Ultra Arena in Paradise, Nev., In their first year in the Big West last year, and previously played up the road at the Orleans Arena when they were in the Western Athletic Conference.

Because of this familiarity, the Roadrunner faithful have shown up in Henderson. Besides first-party supporters like CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny, longtime fans like Bakersfield attorney Dixon Gummer have also made the trip to the Dollar Loan Center.

Gummer said he’s been rooting for the Roadrunners for 20-plus years and has attended tournaments since they joined the WAC.

“It’s a lot of excitement,” he said, “it’s an elevated kind of atmosphere, everybody just has fun.”

Gummer added that he bought all-session tickets for the tournament, because “I come over with the attitude that both the girls and the boys will play in the championship game.”

The women may have fallen short, but to hear sophomore guard Kaleb Higgins, in his first year with CSUB, tell it, the fans are doing their part to bring the men closer to tournament glory.

“It’s nice to see people out there cheering for us,” he said, “and it gave us a boost on the court.”

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.

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