The Occidental College women's basketball team made history on Saturday, downing the University of La Verne 51-37 to clinch the 2009 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament Championship and advance to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in college history.
The Tigers (22-5) will travel to Orange County on Wednesday to face Chapman University (19-8) at the Hutton Sports Center for the first-round playoff game. Tip-off time is 7 p.m. Wednesday night's winner will travel to Newberg, Ore. to face the undefeated and No.3-ranked George Fox University Bruins in the second round on Saturday night.
The atmosphere at Rush Gymnasium was electric on Saturday, and the Tigers managed to maintain their composure despite a shaky start against the Leopards (17-9), with whom they split two regular season games. La Verne led early, but the combination of poor shooting by the Leopards (26.9%) and a tough Tiger defense that forced 12 turnovers allowed Oxy to build a 21-14 lead at the break.
Occidental also struggled from the field in the first half, shooting just 33.3%. But in the second period they figured out a way to get the ball inside to sophomore Stephanie Babij, who scored a game-high 16 points as the Tigers combined for 32 in the paint (18 in the second half). La Verne pulled within eight at 43-35, but Oxy held the Leopards scoreless for the next five minutes and were 8-for-8 at the free throw line down the stretch to reestablish a double-digit lead.
After a disappointing first half, Dior Williams '11 took the Tigers on her back, shooting 3-for-5 to finish with 13 points, five steals and four rebounds. Junior Britinee Yasukochi led all players with four assists while sophomore Madeline Rose and senior Asha Jordan dished out three apiece.
La Verne was paced by Emily Carrillo with 10 points and 11 rebounds, Clarissa Holz (10 points, seven rebounds), and Ashley Paul (eight points). Senior Trenecca Jones pitched in with six points, five rebounds and two steals before fouling out with less than a minute left.
Saturday's game served as a rematch, not only of last week's regular season finale, but of the inaugural SCIAC Tournament Championship. After seeing their hopes of moving to the postseason slip away in a 79-51 loss to La Verne in 2008, the Tigers were determined not to experience a repeat. They are now on their way to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since women's intercollegiate play began at Occidental in 1961.
Wednesday's game against Chapman also is a rematch, the Tigers having lost to the Panthers 78-58 in December. Chapman, which earned one of three Pool B "at large" playoff berths, has a 5-0 record against SCIAC teams in postseason play.