CMS Women's Basketball Comes up Just Short in SCIAC Championship Game, Awaits Possible At-Large Bid

Maya Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds in a close SCIAC Championship loss (photo by Anibal Ortiz)
Maya Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds in a close SCIAC Championship loss (photo by Anibal Ortiz)

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's basketball team played a tight championship game against Pomona-Pitzer the whole way, with neither team ever leading by more than six, but the Athenas came up on the short end of a 60-57 defeat to finish as the conference runner-up on Saturday evening at Roberts Pavilion.

The loss snaps a 20-game win streak for CMS, which falls to 24-3 on the year and will await a possible at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament when the bids are announced on Monday. The Athenas were in this spot a year ago with a 23-4 record and a double-overtime loss to Chapman in the finals, and did not got selected for an at-large, but this time they hope that their No. 17 national ranking coming in and their extended regular season success may be enough to get the elusive bid this season.

Pomona-Pitzer moves to 22-5 on the year and will earn the SCIAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament avenging two regular season losses to the Athenas, the only two defeats they suffered in conference play.

Junior guard Maya Love, who was injured late in the semifinal win over Redlands on Thursday night, led CMS with 20 points and 12 rebounds, shaking off a slow start shooting (1-9 from the floor early in the third) to nearly carry the Athenas to the win. Junior guard Gloria Bates also had 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the Athenas. Senior point guard Keilani Ikehara, the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led Pomona-Pitzer with 16 points, while Carly Leong had 15, including a couple of big baskets down the stretch. 

The fourth quarter proved to be decisive after the teams were deadlocked at 36-36 after three periods. What had been a defensive battle, to the liking of CMS (the league's top defensive team) quickly changed into a shootout, with Pomona-Pitzer outscoring CMS 24-21 in the fourth. The Sagehens missed only two shots in the fourth quarter, going 5-6 from the floor and 12-13 at the line. 

A Cameron Edward three-pointer and a Renae Tamura lay-up accounted for a quick 5-0 run to put Pomona-Pitzer up 43-38. Love answered with a basket, and then another after the Sagehens went ahead 45-40, before sophomore guard Maezelle Millan had a steal and breakaway lay-up to make the score 45-44 with 4:59 left. 

Twice the Athenas answered Pomona-Pitzer to cut the lead to one, but could never get the stop they needed to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Senior guard Corinne Bogle pulled up from the baseline to cut the lead to 47-46, and Bates scored down low after senior forward Ellery Koelker-Wolfe corralled an offensive rebound and found her cutting to the basket to make it 49-48 with 2:17 to play. 

Leong then made the first of her two big plays, when she found a seam cutting to the basket and hit an under-handed scoop lay-up while being fouled with 1:49 left. After making the foul shot to make it a four-point game, junior forward Lindsey Cleary hit a tough hook shot from the right block to cut the lead to 52-50 with 1:36 left. After each team split two at the line, Ikehara found Leong with a crosscourt pass in the right corner, and Leong hit the biggest shot of the game, burying a three-pointer with 46 seconds left to put Pomona-Pitzer ahead by five. 

CMS had one final chance when Love hit a three-pointer in the left corner with 3.3 seconds left to close the gap to 58-57, but Pomona-Pitzer advanced the ball with a timeout and drew a foul with 0.9 on the clock. Ikehara made both, and Love's 60-footer at the buzzer was no good, giving Pomona-Pitzer the narrow win. 

In the third quarter, Love started to assert herself and it looked like she might carry the Athenas to the finish line. She drew the entire Sagehen defense to her in the paint and found sophomore forward Kate Parrish for a lay-up, and after Bates had a block and defensive rebound, Love hit a jumper in the paint to give CMS its largest lead at 35-29 with 3:51 to go in the third. 

Pomona-Pitzer took that punch and pulled even at 36-36 at the end of the third by holding CMS withouth a field goal the rest of the way. Ikehara stopped the run with a tough runner in the paint, then found Vanessa Hsia for a 15-foot jumper to close the lead to 35-33. A three-pointer from Renae Tamura tied the score with two minutes to go, and the score remained tied at 36-36 heading into the fourth. 

CMS finished with a 43-34 edge on the board, but it was nothing like the last time the teams met, when the Athenas outrebounded the Sagehens 56-17. Amara Chidom helped neutralize some of the inside advantage for CMS, finishing with nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. 

The Athenas remain stuck on 24 wins, tying a school record for wins in a season, and they will hope that they will get a second chance to become the first team in school history to win 25 when the NCAA selections are announced on Monday.