A 64-63 win for the Leopards against UC Santa Cruz was the bow on what was an emotional game for the seniors in their last home game of the season Saturday night.
La Verne went into this match-up against UC Santa Cruz with a mindset to continue building their stock to make the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference postseason.
This was the last game of their non-conference opponents, so the Leopards had to make this win count before they finish out the season with conference play on the road.
Late game free throws by freshman guard Jazzlyn Johnson and junior guard Monica Garcia-Silva pushed the Leopards over the Banana Slugs.
The Leopards not only sealed the game at the line late, but their defensive presence was felt in the closing minutes of the game.
Senior guard Angie Steel blocked UC Santa Cruz freshman forward Kaylee Murphy’s drive attempt to keep the Leopards in reach of a potential win.
Steel’s block brought the home crowd to its feet and had her teammates hyped up with the chance to win.
“Every time I step on the court just making sure on defense, I just get a tip on the ball,” Steel said. “It’s something to keep my team hyped up.”
It was a game of runs as the Leopards had moments with energy plays and slumps throughout.
La Verne got out to a fast start with a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.
Following the Leopards’ run, the Banana Slugs went on a 6-0 run of their own to tie the game with a layup by freshman guard Savannah Henson.
La Verne senior guard Clarissa Perez says that focus helps them be consistent with energy.
“I tell my teammates to just keep playing hard, stay focused, and play defense,” Perez said.
Perez extended La Verne’s lead to five 14-9 on a three-point shot with 3:20 left in the quarter.
La Verne closed out the quarter with a defensive presence in transition as they forced a turnover on Santa Cruz junior guard Emily Mitchell which led to a jump shot by freshman forward Alexa Withers to push the Leopards’ lead to 16-9.
The Leopards managed to end the first quarter with the lead, 20-14.
Whenever the Leopards got out in transition following strong defensive stops, they were able to get a quality offensive possession from a set play or a quick shot early in the clock.
The Leopards were getting beat on the boards by the Banana Slugs as UC Santa Cruz out rebounded them 52-46 in the game.
There were moments on both ends where La Verne was not aggressive, especially on offense in grabbing rebounds that could have led to second chance opportunities.
UC Santa Cruz was allowed 11 second chance points in the game and outscored La Verne in the paint 42-18.
The Banana Slugs kept up with the Leopards all game as they got within four-points at the half with the Leopards leading, 33-29.
La Verne’s offense was slow and sloppy to start the second half, turning the ball over and allowing UC Santa Cruz to get to the line.
Santa Cruz went on a 8-6 run in the third quarter to take a 12-point lead, 48-36, behind Mitchell’s jump shot at the 2:15 mark of the quarter.
The Leopards steadily cut into the Banana Slugs’ lead as senior guard Bailey Kurahashi made two free throws to bring the deficit to 10 points at 48-38.
Junior guard Ronnesha Harvey followed up with a three-point play to make it a seven-point game at 48-41.
Momentum for La Verne was building late in the third quarter but UC Santa Cruz prevailed as they led 50-42.
The Leopards powered through the fourth quarter as they cut into the Santa Cruz lead early.
The Leopards made it a three point game at 49-52 with a three-point shot by Perez.
Both teams traded free throw shots throughout the quarter which stopped the flow of the game, but the teams finished the night at the free throw line.
With the game on the line, La Verne sealed themselves the win. The Leopards shot 79.3 percent from the line on 23-29 shots in contrast to UC Santa Cruz’s 40.9 percent on 9-22 shots.
Garcia-Silva led the Leopards in scoring with 18 points and eight rebounds. Perez followed up with 15 points and two rebounds. Kurahashi finished with seven points and three rebounds.
Leopard head coach Jason Pruitt said he was glad that the team gutted out this on senior night.
“It sucks to lose on senior night because it’s one night you’ll never get back. It was a good team effort,” Pruitt said. “Their teammates played for them tonight.”
This was a close senior night game that was memorable for Perez, Steel and Kurahashi. All three players showed fight and effort every game this season and the team followed suit and managed to gut it out over UC Santa Cruz for the win
For Kurahashi, the fight and effort from the team starts in practice. “I would tell them that it all starts in practice. If we do not work as well, we are not going to play as good,” Kurahashi said.
Though despite their hard-fought win on senior night the women’s basketball team then fell to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (14-1) on Monday and Caltech (4-11) on Wednesday, with both games on the road.
The team will finish the season at Chapman (10-5) looking to secure their spot in the postseason.
La Verne’s record moves to 12-12 overall and 6-9 in SCIAC.
Megan Hines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.