Leopards fall in SCIAC Semifinals

Junior guard Annie Trinh goes up for a shot in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards fell to the Occidental Tigers, 76-70. / photo by Jack Janes
Junior guard Annie Trinh goes up for a shot in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards fell to the Occidental Tigers, 76-70. / photo by Jack Janes

Jonas Holt
Staff Writer

In a semifinal matchup of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament on Feb. 22, the La Verne Leopards were defeated by the Occidental Tigers, 76-70.

The Leopards were down starter and senior point guard Naomi Jackson who was injured due to an abdominal strain suffered days before the game.

“When you’re in the playoffs it’s hard being down a starter,” head coach Anthony Mason said. “Players stepped up, but it’s hard to replace what Naomi gives us as a leader and on the defensive end.” 

From the opening tip-off, it was evident that this would be a tightly contested affair. The Leopards, led by the dynamic duo of senior forward Chiara Brown, the SCIAC Offensive Player of the Year, and junior Marissa Howell, Second Team All-SCIAC guard.

“It’s hard when we don’t have our usual floor general,” senior guard Brianna Torres said. “Naomi was out for the game so we had to step in some big shoes so the rotation was kinda off but we tried our best to adjust and play our game.”

The Leopards came out strong, as Brown won the tip and immediately sank a bank shot on the left block for the game’s first points, they jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first four minutes.

Freshman forward Alyssa Smith concentrates on her free-throw shots in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards lost, 76-70, against Occidental. / Jack Janes
Freshman forward Alyssa Smith concentrates on her free-throw shots in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards lost, 76-70, against Occidental. / Jack Janes

The Tigers clawed right back with senior guard Toni Thompson leading the charge. Thompson, a first-team All-SCIAC selection, showcased her scoring prowess early, powering her way into the lane for four quick points to keep the Tigers close.

As the first quarter progressed, turnovers plagued both teams, with possessions exchanged back and forth. Despite the Leopards’ defensive pressure rattling the Tigers and forcing five turnovers, Thompson continued to dominate, single-handedly keeping the Tigers in the game as she had all 11 of her team’s 11 points at the end of the first quarter. 

In the second quarter, the Tigers seized control, fueled by Thompson’s relentless attack. Despite the Leopards’ answering back with some timely buckets, the Tigers surged ahead, as they took a 31-27 lead at halftime with Thompson scoring 21 of those 31 points. 

Brown, the offensive powerhouse for the La Verne Leopards, wasted no time asserting her dominance in the third quarter, opening the half with a jumper to narrow the Tigers’ lead. 

However, Occidental quickly responded, capitalizing on a transition opportunity with a three-pointer from sophomore Paige Yasukochi to extend their advantage.

Occidental maintained their offensive momentum, with Yasukochi staying hot from three and extending their lead to 40-33 midway through the quarter. 

Freshman forward Cayla Harang scans the court to see what passing lanes are open so the Leopards can score in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards lost in the SCIAC Semifinals, 76-70, against Occidental. / Jack Janes
Freshman forward Cayla Harang scans the court to see what passing lanes are open so the Leopards can score in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards lost in the SCIAC Semifinals, 76-70, against Occidental. / Jack Janes

“I think what went wrong is that we focused too much on the mistakes instead of moving on and we let them affect and change how we play,” Brown said.

As tensions ran high, the teams headed into a media timeout with Occidental holding a slim 42-35 lead. However, the Leopards refused to back down, rallying behind Brown as she scored a crucial basket to chip away at the Tigers’ lead. Brown’s reverse layup further narrowed the gap, igniting hope for a Leopards’ comeback. The Tigers led 48-45 heading into the fourth quarter.

Brown opened the fourth quarter with a turnaround jumper to cut the Tigers lead to just one, striking lots of hope for a Leopards comeback. Occidental responded to every punch the Leopards threw. Yasukochi knocked down more threes to ignite a 9-0 run to extend their lead up to 10 with six minutes remaining in the game. That forced Mason to call a timeout to regroup his team. 

“Thompson and Yasukochi are great players, they hit some really tough shots tonight,” Mason said. “I thought we could’ve done a better job to stop Thompson from getting going in the first half because when a player like that sees a couple go in, it’s hard to stop them from there.”

Thompson crushed La Verne’s hopes with a quick basket after the timeout, extending the Tigers’ lead to 59-47. Despite a valiant effort from the Leopards, Yasukochi could not miss from beyond the arc, sinking another three-pointer to put the Tigers ahead 62-48 with just over four minutes left in regulation. 

Junior guard Marissa Howell and the Leopards fans behind her anxiously watch and wait for her three-point attempt to fall in the basket in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards came up short against Occidental, 76-70. / photo by Jack Janes
Junior guard Marissa Howell and the Leopards fans behind her anxiously watch and wait for her three-point attempt to fall in the basket in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals on Feb. 22 at Frantz Athletic Court. The Leopards came up short against Occidental, 76-70. / photo by Jack Janes

Despite a late push from the Leopards, highlighted by three-pointers from Howell and another from Torres, the Tigers held on to secure a hard-fought 76-70 victory over the Leopards, thus ending the Leopards’ history-making season.

As the final buzzer sounded, it marked not only the end of a hard-fought game but also the conclusion of remarkable careers for seniors Chiara Brown, Brianna Torres, and Naomi Jackson at the University of La Verne. 

“As a freshman looking up to the seniors this has been a once in a lifetime experience to me, I’ve had the best teammates and supporters this whole year, this season will be one I’ll never forget,” freshman forward Alyssa Smith said about the leadership she received this year.

The Leopards resilience and achievements throughout the season serve as a testament to their talent and dedication, leaving a lasting legacy on the court as the first ever team in school history to be back-to-back SCIAC regular season champions. 

“I told my girls tonight that you all are history makers and are back-to-back regular season champs and no one can’t take that away from you, first ones in school history,” Mason said.

Jonas Holt can be reached at jonas.holt@laverne.edu.

Jonas Holt is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He is a staff writer and staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

Jack Janes, a senior journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine. He is also a staff photographer for both publications. He previously served as a Campus Times staff writer.

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