The women’s basketball team looked to secure themselves a spot in the postseason by taking down the Cal Lutheran Regals Wednesday night, only to fall 77-70 in a hard fought battle on the Frantz Athletic Court.
The Leopards dropped to 6-7 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 13-8 overall. With the loss, La Verne fell to sixth place in SCIAC, two games behind the fourth place Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens.
The game began at a fast pace, but both teams had difficulty getting to the basket early.
The Leopards struck first, with senior guard Maydeen Merino sinking her three-point shot. But after a back and forth quarter the Leopards eventually ended the quarter on top, 16-12.
However, the Regals started to take advantage of the Leopard’s missed opportunities and gradually began crawling their way back to make the score 29-27, with La Verne barely holding the lead.
Then, Regals sophomore forward Cameron Mallory swished her three-pointer to give her team the advantage 30-29, silencing the home crowd.
Now in the final 30 seconds of the half, the Leopards looked to take back the lead heading into halftime.
However, numerous defensive miscues on the Leopards allowed the Regals to further cement their lead with an intense flurry of counterattacks that the home team just could not keep up with.
“We had missed rotations on defense and gave one of their players four or five 3’s” said junior guard Dejanee Gill.
The Cal Lutheran Regals lead at halftime 38-29.
“We planned to play tough man-to-man defense and limit their shots, but that’s not what we did and we got off to a rocky start,” said head coach Jason Pruitt.
The second half picked up right where the first left off, with Cal Lutheran bullying around the La Verne defense.
The Regal’s lead only continued to grow, ballooning to an 13 point lead at 48-35, as the Leopards struggled to do much to slow Mallory and the rest of Cal Lutheran’s shooters.
Fortunately for the home team, senior center Brittany McDaniel was a pillar for the Leopard defense to rally around, making block after block to deny the Regals and allow her team to inch their way back into the game.
“We picked it up on defense and were tighter on our rotations,” said senior forward Destinee Garcia
While McDaniel built momentum on defense, Gill transferred that momentum back to the offense.
The SCIAC Athlete of the Week ended her day with her second ever double-double, racking up 10 rebounds to go along with her 13 points. She also tacked on seven assists, nearly completing a triple-double.
Gill then sunk another three-pointer to bring the Leopards within striking distance at 51-46. With less than 30 seconds to go in the quarter, Gill hit a huge block that sent the home crowd into a frenzy to end the quarter.
Leopard sophomore point guard Jazzlyn Johnson took over the offense heading into the final quarter, shooting them back into the game to make the score 58-57.
Johnson ended the game with a game-high 25 points.
Although they were back in the game and despite their best efforts, the Leopards were still unable to ever pull ahead, always just barely trailing the Regals.
With less than a minute on the clock, Johnson nailed another three to make the score 71-69, with Cal Lutheran still just barely ahead.
“We need to have less mental mishaps on defense,” Johnson said.
However, a botched pass that lead to a Leopard turnover effectively sealed the game 75-69 with 30 seconds left. The Regals ended the game on top, 77-70.
“We’ve been down double digits almost every game, we’re built to be a comeback team,” Pruitt said. “But eventually that magic runs out real quick.”
After losing to Redlands in December, the Leopards put together a string of wins against Bethesda, Piedmont, Lewis and Clark and Caltech that finished out the month.
Unfortunately, January proved to be a tougher month for the Leopards, dropping four conference games to Pomona-Pitzer twice, Chapman and Redlands. Despite the numerous losses, the Leopards still had many highlights. The Leopards’ first meeting with Cal Lutheran brought out signature performances from Johnson and Gill, dropping 27 and 23 points respectively while Garcia notched nine points and topped her career-high in rebounds with 12.
Now sitting in sixth place in SCIAC, in order to make the postseason the Leopards will need to win out in their remaining schedule and will need teams above them in the standings, like Cal Lutheran and Pomona-Pitzer, to start dropping games.
With only four games remaining in the season (only three of which are conference games), the Leopards will first take on Chapman at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Frantz Athletic Court.
Even if the team loses all four games they will still end the season with a winning record – the first since 2013.
“If we had what we need to win a championship, we wouldn’t need to be in this position,” Pruit said. “But [this program] has come a long way. We’re not in a position anymore where other teams can circle us as an easy win.”
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.