Like a boxer that’s consistently worked the body of their opponent, the damage inflicted by the pace and conditioning of the Merced College women’s basketball team wasn’t evident until the fourth quarter.

Tenth-seeded Cabrillo, which hadn’t seen the kind of unrelenting defensive pressure and transition game this Blue Devils squad is known for this season, suddenly had no legs.
Passes that had been crisp and precise just 20 minutes earlier started to become lazy and predictable. And Merced feasted on them with a flurry of steals and easy layups, turning a competitive game into an 80-53 rout in the first round of the NorCal Regional Tournament.

It’s that kind of relentless tenacity that has coach Allen Huddleston contemplating the program’s first trip to the State Elite Eight since the 2007-2008 campaign.
“I feel like our speed has been able to wear teams down this season,” Huddleston said after the game. “(Cabrillo) hung in there. I was starting to wonder if they were ever going to get tired, because they’d keep battling back every time we’d go on a run.

“But I was really pleased with how hard our kids played. I felt like we really hung in there and fought.”
Merced remains one victory away from its goal of reaching the state tournament, needing a win over the City College of San Francisco this Saturday.

It’s already been a special season with the Devils earning a share of the Central Valley Conference title and sophomore guard Trinity Washington earning the league MVP and a nod on the All-State team.

A run in the state tourney would be the perfect way to end it.