Zach Baines (senior) scored his 1,000th point as a Tiger during the Occidental College men’s basketball home game against California Lutheran University (Cal Lu) Jan. 12. This came as another highlight for Baines in a season where he broke the program’s single-game scoring record and is currently leading the conference in scoring.
Baines scored 14 points in Occidental’s 84–64 win over Cal Lu and explained how he was not aware he had reached the milestone until witnessing his family’s reaction.
“I didn’t know until my family members in the crowd were just screaming,” Baines said. “They were keeping track the whole game.”
Baines racked up his impressive tally, which now stands at 1,180 points, in just 2 1/2 seasons with Occidental after transferring from Middlebury College in Vermont. Baines said he was confident he would find a home at Occidental.
“I have a lot of family out here and I started talking to the coaches as well,” Baines said. “At the end of the day, I felt Oxy was just a good fit for me and to continue my academics and basketball journey.”
Head coach Brian Newhall described how he felt Baines would be a great addition to his roster when he transferred after the Fall 2016 semester. He would quickly be proved right as Baines scored 18 points and played 36 minutes in his Occidental debut against Whittier College Jan. 12, 2017.
“He was looking to come to the West Coast and Oxy was a perfect fit academically, socially and on the basketball court,” Newhall said via email.
With Baines now in his final season playing for the Tigers, Newhall said he has grown into his role in Occidental’s men’s basketball team.
“Zach has been a two year team captain,” Newhall said via email. “He has improved his defense, rebounding and dribbling. He has a major impact on our program. He has helped lead us to two consecutive SCIAC [Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference] Post-Season Tournaments.”
Baines’ growth as a player was highlighted this season when he broke Occidental’s single-game scoring record against Pacific University Dec. 19. The achievement, alongside a string of outstanding performances, saw Baines named SCIAC Offensive Player of the Week and included in the D3hoops.com Team of the Week.
“It was just a surreal achievement, looking back,” Baines said. “Everything was just falling for me at that point. I had very easy buckets and their defense never really adjusted, so I was getting wide open looks every time.”
Alongside Baines, Austin DeWitz (senior) has been a significant contributor to the team and a big reason they have been so successful thus far, according to Newhall. DeWitz, another captain on the team, eclipsed 1,000 points for the Tigers in the game after Baines did so and leads the team in rebounds on the season.
“Austin has been a rare four year starter at Oxy,” Newhall said via email. “He has added to his game each year. He has consistently been one of the top defenders/rebounders in the SCIAC.”
DeWitz paid tribute to his co-captain Baines and described how practicing alongside a player of Baines’ talent has helped his own game and the team in general.
“It’s super fun getting to play with him every day, getting to go at each other in practice and then getting to see it translate to the games is super cool,” DeWitz said. “I always joke with him that the only guy in the league that can guard him is me, so there’s no excuse for him not to destroy everyone.”
The Tigers are in second place in the SCIAC and recently clinched a playoff berth. As the team’s season comes to a conclusion, Baines, like DeWitz and Newhall, explained how his focus is on both regular and postseason success for the team.
“We want to win out and we want to be regular season champs,” Baines said. “If that’s not the case then definitely win the conference tournament and nothing short of that.”
Occidental’s men’s basketball team’s next home game is their regular season finale against Pomona-Pitzer, who are currently top of the SCIAC, Feb. 16 at 4 p.m.