Men’s basketball continues to dominate SCIAC

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Zach Baines (senior) scores against West Coast Baptist player Sean Anderson at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2018. Miles Koupal/The Occidental

The Occidental men’s basketball team is halfway through a victorious season. With seven non-conference wins under their belts so far, the Tigers are working hard to secure a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship win, according to Kyle Dosa (first year) and Brandon Ruotolo (senior). Their season opened with a 106–55 home win against Bethesda University Nov. 4. Since then, the team has won games against Westmont College, West Coast Baptist College, Rhodes College and California Miramar University.

During their 2017–2018 season, the team played a total of 26 games and saw 19 victories. After losing only one senior last spring and welcoming six first years in the fall, the team has focused on cohesion and improving their craft. Everybody has learned to be less selfish players, and the team has focused on improving their collaboration, according to Ruotolo.

“There’s a big difference between my first two years and my last two years,” Ruotolo said. “My first two years, we had older players who were the main focus of the team, and we had a couple of really good players who everything went through in terms of basketball. And the last two years, it’s felt like more of a team. I feel like we’ve expanded with new additions as well as the maturing of the people who’ve been here the whole time. We’ve turned into more of a cohesive team.”

Associate head basketball coach Michael Wells considers the team’s 89–79 exhibition win against Westmont Nov. 10, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics team, their best game so far this season. The Tigers lost to Westmont last season 69–62. With Westmont being a skilled and well-coached team offering scholarships that SCIAC schools typically don’t, it was a solid win for the Tigers, according to Wells. The team played well for this time of the season with shots over 50 percent from the three-point line and the field, but are continuing to focus on the rest of their season, according to Wells.

“It’s very early in the season,” Wells said. “We’ve played four non-conference games and the season will start to pick up with a non-conference road game at West Coast Baptist and our first SCIAC game at La Verne [this] week.”

One of only three seniors, Ruotolo thought the 68–59 victory at Caltech was their best game so far this season and credits much of their successes to the close-knit environment of the team. The Tigers usually play a non-conference Caltech game early on in the season, and to win against them on the road was exciting, according to Ruotolo.

“It’s a pretty close group,” Ruotolo said. “I’d say they’re some of my best friends, the guys on the basketball team. People hang out outside of basketball, which is saying a lot because during the season we’re seeing each other every single day of the week, but we’re still willing to hang out outside and have fun.”

Austin DeWitz (senior) prepares to shoot a free-throw against West Coast Baptist at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2018. Miles Koupal/The Occidental

One of the newest members of the team Kyle Dosa (first year) echoed Ruotolo’s thoughts on the close team environment. The juniors and seniors did a really good job at welcoming the first years, not only to the team and collegiate athletics, but to college in general, and made their transition smooth and easy, according to Dosa. He also appreciates that the coaches don’t just care about how they play on the court, but also pay attention to the athletes’ health and school work.

“Our team is really close,” Dosa said. “I think many people can see this because we are always together whether we are eating in the Marketplace or studying in the library. The coaches are very helpful to the players. Obviously, they are helpful on the court, but they also ensure that we stay healthy and keep up on our schoolwork.”

Led by coaches Brian Newhall ‘83, Michael Wells and Davey McEliece, the team is keeping their eyes on the rest of the season where they will be playing the majority of their SCIAC games, according to Oxy Athletics.

“We have a lot of areas to improve and a long way to go if we are going to be playing our best basketball in January and February,” Wells said. “We do have six returning players that played the bulk of the minutes last year, which gives us an early season advantage on offense and defense as far as how we want to play. If we stay the same as we are right now, though, it won’t be good enough to beat the best teams in the SCIAC.”

The Tigers are scheduled to play their first SCIAC game at the University of La Verne Dec. 5.

“I’m excited for league play,” Dosa said. “We know that every game in the SCIAC will be hard-fought, and I can’t wait to see how the team performs.”