Author: Daniel Terner
The men’s and women’s basketball teams concluded their seasons with back-to-back games Feb. 24 in Rush Gymnasium, both losing to Cal Lutheran (Cal Lu).
On senior night though, the scoreboard did not tell the complete story of the women’s game.
In the first game, Stefanie Young (senior), celebrating her 22nd birthday, scored 22 points. Despite reaching her single-game best, the Tigers fell 75-59 to the Regals (18-7, 13-3 SCIAC).
Ashton Reid (senior) added eight points and four assists in her last game.
“It was just really nice to put everything out on the court and have that be our last game,” Young said after the game. “[I] said we were going to go out with a bang,
[and we] went out with a bang.”
The Tigers squared off against a strong Cal Lu team headed to the SCIAC playoffs in the Tuesday-night matchup, but with Young hot all game—shooting 6-11 from behind the arc—Oxy took a 33-29 lead into halftime.
The Regals came out quickly in the second half, however, and tied the score before 30 seconds had passed. Young responded with a deep 3-pointer to restore a three point Tiger lead, but the Regals hit back with an 8-2 run to retake a 41-38 lead, using their superior size and good ball movement to score quick buckets.
Defensively, the Regals’ size proved a challenge for Oxy, as they had to rely on outside jump-shots to score. But the Tigers were up to the task for most of the game, led by Young.
“I think today was pretty much about the seniors,” Reid said after the game. “We’ve been here for four years, working hard, and with a whole new team this year we were closer, and it was special, really special. And playing with my best friend [Stefanie] for the final time and her playing really, really well and making shots—it was perfect.”
While this year’s roster had only had two upperclassmen—Reid and Young—head coach Anahit Aladzhanyan believes the future looks bright for the program.
“What I can say pretty confidently about my group is we’re a very young group, pretty inconsistent in a lot of ways,” Aladzhanyan said. “But what we have been consistent with all year long is fighting, and we came out ready to fight and gave it our best shot. I’m proud of our team.”
Sophomore captain Tiffany Kho, who had 10 points, three assists and three steals in the game against Cal Lu, will bring leadership experience to a young group next year. Key first-years Triana Anderson, who averaged seven points per game, and Ciara Byrne, who averaged about five rebounds per game, will also return for the Tigers.
“Our silver lining of the season is that our younger players did get a lot of experience,” Aladzhanyan said. “Because most of our team is very young, everybody played a ton. So it’s just building on that and getting better every day.”
Rice Leads Tigers For Last Time
In the men’s game, the Tigers took on a similarly talented Cal Lutheran team (18-6, 12-4 SCIAC) that entered the senior night game tied for the conference lead.
However, the Tigers (11-14, 7-9 SCIAC) came in with the confidence of having already beaten the Kingsmen 75-72 on the road in January on senior Juwan Rice’s buzzer-beating three.
This time though, Occidental lost 63-62 in a game that was complete with stingy defense, a rowdy Rush Gymnasium crowd and a dramatic ending.
The Tigers had a chance to win the game, down one with 13 seconds left on the clock and possession of the ball, but the Kingsmen defended well, double-teaming leading scorer Andrew Johnson (sophomore) and forcing up Austin Hawk’s (sophomore) desperation 3-point shot that bounced off the rim.
“We had a shot to beat the SCIAC champs in our own gym,” assistant coach Mike Wells said. “And it just came up a little bit short.”
The loss ends a season for the Tigers in which they played numerous close games. The squad managed to beat two of the three teams that ended up tying for the SCIAC championship (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Cal Lu) while also suffering disappointing defeats.
In the back-and-forth start to last Tuesday night’s game, Cal Lu jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes. But Oxy immediately responded with a 9-0 run of their own catalyzed when Johnson, who had 18 points and five rebounds on the night, completed a tough 3-point play. Sharp-shooters JJ Friedman (junior) and Kory Hamane (junior) also both hit big shots in a first half that ended with Cal Lu holding a 36-31 lead.
In the second half, the Kingsmens’ dynamic backcourt took over, fueling them to a 10 point lead through the first 10 minutes.
The Tigers hung around until the very end though, changing up their defensive looks and hitting Cal Lu on the fast break.
“We battled,” Rice said after the game. “We turned up the defensive intensity in the second half to get stops which kept us in the game. We fed off the energy of the crowd.”
Rice, who was honored as Oxy’s lone senior before the senior night game, had 10 points and two steals in his last game in a Tiger uniform.
While Rice’s college basketball career only started two years ago after he transferred to Occidental for his junior year, the Tiger’s guard has made a mark on and off the court.
The captain averaged 14 points and almost five rebounds in more than 30 minutes per game. Off the court, Rice, who majors in kinesiology, will graduate this spring with a 3.9 GPA and continue his studies at the UCLA School of Dentistry as part of the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program next fall.
“For the last two years Juwan Rice has been kind of like the heartbeat of our team.” Wells said. “Offensively, defensively, every facet of the game you can imagine he’s got his hand in on it.”
While losing Rice will surely be rough for the Tigers, he is the only graduating senior on a team that will have a strong group of returners next year.
Spencer Levy (junior), who averaged over 13 points per game this season, and 6-foot-7 Andrew Garrison (junior), who averaged seven rebounds per game, will anchor the leadership along with Hamane and Friedman. Additionally, Johnson, Hawk and a tall group of first-years will be back next year hoping to improve on the results of this season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Rice said. “It’s a great group of guys and we’re more of a family than any team I’ve been a part of. We battled, we got better, we had great comeback wins and the team will continue to grow and be able to face adversity moving forward.”
While both Oxy basketball teams will miss the SCIAC playoffs this year, Oxy students can look forward to next winter which promises to be an exciting season in Rush Gymnasium.
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