The Occidental women’s basketball team (10-15 overall; 6-10 SCIAC) conquered the Whittier Poets in a 69-55 win in their final game of the season Saturday. The Tigers controlled the game from start to finish.
Saturday’s game not only marked the final game of the season, but would also have marked the team’s senior night, an evening dedicated to honoring and celebrating the graduating team members — if they had any.
“Well, there’s no seniors graduating so it’s gonna be the same team,” said Erin Matsumoto (junior). “I think that this year we had a lot of really, really good chemistry, and I hope that carries over to the next season.”
Nevertheless, the Tigers played as if their careers were ending, setting an intense, focused tone the minute they took the court.
With Fetty Wap’s “679” blasting in Rush Gym, the two teams warmed up. The Tigers ran quick, crisp layup drills, while the Poets huddled around the middle of the court, pointing and grinning at their opponents. It became clear this game would be both a physical and mental battle.
“That’s Whittier,” Paige Waters (first year) said, laughing.
With a close 56-53 Whittier win already under their belts this season, the Tigers wanted to prove that their first victory was no fluke.
“We all wanted to beat Whittier, they’re one of our wins coming into this game, and we knew we could beat them again,” Waters said. “They’re one of our rivals, so there was a lot of energy.”
Occidental held nothing back in the first period of the game, dominating 10-1 within minutes of winning the tip-off.
Leading scorer Matsumoto and guard Grace Baranowski (sophomore) propelled the team to success early on, dropping a relentless, collaborative collection of layups and jump shots against the Poet defense. Matsumoto landed a whopping 29 points, hitting five three-point shots.
While the Tigers led the entire game, the Poets cut the lead to five at the end of the first period, trailing 23-18.
Occidental set the tone on the scoreboard while Whittier set the tone on the court, throwing both elbows and layups simultaneously. As a result, both teams frequently found themselves at the free-throw line throughout the game.
“They’re a really small and scrappy team, and I think just trying to mentally focus on us is going to be really important in this game,” Matsumoto said. “Sometimes they’re really chippy, so just trying to get over that hump.”
Although the Poets clawed their way to within 12 points by the end of the first half, the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter, leading 62-41. A majority of the scoring came from Matsumoto, Baranowski and Triana Anderson, a sophomore guard who added 10 points.
Because the squad has no graduating players this year, none were devastated that the season had come to a close.
“I’m sad just that it’s over, that we don’t have any more games,” Baranowski said. “We don’t have anybody leaving, so I’m not really going to miss anyone too much, because I see them every day anyways.”
With another season in the books, the Tigers are bittersweet about their final game, but will have the same squad next year and plan to come back even stronger, according to Midori McElwee (sophomore).
Perhaps most pleased about the win and the season as a whole was head coach Anahit Aladzhanyan.
“You know, I thought we took huge steps forward, our team works really, really hard and I’m really proud of them,” Aladzhanyan said. “We have a super bright future ahead of us and I’m really, really excited. I’m really proud of our team.”