PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 18, 2015) – Junior Stephanie Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) drilled the game-winning three-pointer with 7.2 seconds remaining to propel the Caltech women's basketball team to its first SCIAC win in five years with a 59-58 victory over the University of La Verne on Wednesday night.
The Beavers snapped a 64-game SCIAC losing streak dating back to Feb. 18, 2010, when Caltech beat Pomona-Pitzer Colleges both on the road and at home, the latter a 61-54 win on Senior Night.
The Beavers shot a blistering 49 percent from the field and dished out a season-high 17 assists to overcome a -12 rebounding margin and 23-shot disadvantage. Caltech is now 1-22 overall and 1-13 in the SCIAC, while La Verne drips to 10-14 (7-8).
"This was a total team effort – everyone found ways to contribute," Head Coach Sandra Marbut said. "We talked all night about playing our game and not worrying about anything else, so we went right at them. It was on our terms from start to finish."
Sophomore Kate Lewis (San Antonio, Texas / Ronald Reagan) dominated from the outset, scoring 10 of the Beavers' first 14 points over the opening nine minutes, giving Caltech a 14-9 lead with 11:23 on the clock. Back-to-back threes saw La Verne take the lead for the first time as Lewis ran into foul trouble with three calls against her, but a mid-range jumper by junior Esther Du (Walnut, Calif. / Troy) made it 16-15 for Caltech at the 7:49 mark.
The Leopards regained the lead on consecutive two-pointers, but the Beaver soon tied things up at 20-20 with 5:12 remaining before halftime. La Verne finally strung together some buckets to surge ahead to a 27-20 lead and held a six-point margin at halftime, 30-24, with senior Bridget Connor (Albuquerque, N.M. / Albuquerque Acad.) canning a jumper just before the buzzer.
Lewis picked right up where she had left off to start the second half, hitting a layup and dishing an assist to Du for a trey to bring the Beavers within one point in the first minute. La Verne recovered to stretch back out to a seven-point lead, but Wong nailed her first three-pointer of the evening to break up what would otherwise have been a 12-0 run.
Trailing by 10 at 42-32 with 13:31 left to play, the Beavers made their move, scoring nine points on four consecutive possessions. Lewis drove for a layup, then grabbed a rebound at the other end and Connor hit a layup on the ensuing possession. After another Lewis rebound, Wong sank another three-pointer to again make it a one-basket game at 42-39 with 12:08 on the clock.
Following a layup from each team, the Leopards went back up by six one minute later and kept it at least a two-possession game for the next three, until Lewis took over. The SCIAC leading scorer rolled in her next three shots, all driving layups, and Wong drilled a jumper to pull within one point at 54-53 entering the final five minutes.
Both teams locked down on defense, not surrendering an inch as they forced a combined four turnovers and six missed shots over a scoreless three minutes, which Wong broke with a game-tying free throw. The wing sent her team ahead with another pair of free throws on the Beavers' next possession, but the Leopards hit their next two shots to pull ahead, 58-56 with just 16 seconds remaining.
The Beavers had no intention of letting this one get away, though, as Du found Wong for an open look and the junior nailed the triple with just 7.2 seconds left to play. With three fouls to give, Wong committed two to make sure La Verne could not get off a good look, with an off-balance baseline jumper clanging off the iron to hand Caltech the victory.
"When we got down to a two-possession game, we were comfortable because we have been practicing final possessions all season," Marbut said. "I reminded everyone, 'We know how to do this,' and then kept cool and Stephanie found the perfect shot. When she nailed that three and we had three fouls to give, I knew we were good. We always talk about just needing to be one point better than the other team – we just need the slightest edge – and we did that tonight."
Lewis led all scorers with 22 points for her 10th game in double figures on 11-of-19 shooting and just missed a double-double, adding nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wong finished with 18 points, including three treys, while Connor notched 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Sophomore Michelle Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) dished out five assists – all in the first half – and Du made three steals while junior Kristin Anderson (Folsom, Calif. / St. Francis) pulled down seven boards in just 18 minutes off the bench.
"Kate did an amazing job tonight, Steph settled in when it mattered most and Bridget was on a mission," Marbut said. "Kate scored three possessions in a row in transition going hard to the rim with the same grace and confidence as she has all season. We knew Steph would find her groove and that three was perfect in every way. Bridget worked so hard and put it all out there so often – she let us know from the get-go tonight that she was not going to settle for anything less than a win tonight. Michelle was distributing the ball so well too, Mary came up with some key rebounds and free throws and Esther was critical in pushing the tempo – it was an all-in kind of night."
Marbut and the Beavers will host Occidental College (4-19, 2-12) in the final home game of the season on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 5:00 p.m. The team will send off Connor on Senior Night in her final home game in a Caltech uniform, while raising awareness of Title IX with an Orange Out.