ORANGE — Trailing by one with seven seconds left, the Occidental College women's basketball team was closer to losing than they'd been since their only loss this season on Nov. 25.
But with the game on the line, Makenzie Brandon (Seattle) saved a broken play by hitting a 15-footer as time expired and the Tigers (7-1) beat Monmouth (Ill.) 67-66 at Chapman University on the last day of the Tiger/Panther Classic and 2011.
Stephanie Scamman went coast-to-coast, then a miscommunication put her pass up for grabs at the top of the key. Brandon snagged it and buried the game-winner, capping a 22-point, 12-rebound double double — her third of the season and second consecutively.
The All-SCIAC junior has done quite a bit for Oxy in her career, but hitting a buzzer beater was a first for her at any level.
"It was that moment you always think you're going to have as a kid and today it came true," said Brandon, who's been especially hot of late. On Friday she had 25 of her 28 points in the second half of a 64-54 win over Hiram College. "It was a great way to end the year and it was fun to see my teammates run out and jump on me."
Brandon's shot prevented Oxy from letting a game, that they led for most of the afternoon, slip away.
At one point the Tigers had a 15-point lead in the second half, but giving up free throws and second chances on the boards caught up to them. Oxy sent Monmouth to the free throw line 23 times and gave up 14 offensive rebounds on Saturday afternoon.
"I don't care if it's been the worst 39 minutes for us. If it comes down to making one play, she's going to make it," VanDerveer said. "She just is."
Oxy ends 2011 on a positive note, but if there's one New Year's Resolution VanDerveer has for her team, it would be to clean up the little things.
"We have to play with pace, purpose and poise and I thought we got passive instead of poised," VanDerveer said.
While committing fouls at one end, Oxy didn't have the same fortune at the other.
At one point in the second half, Oxy had committed eight fouls and Monmouth none. It wasn't until 9-minute mark in the second half that the Tigers finally got a call to go their way and Oxy didn't attempt a free throw until Katelyn Rowe hit one of two to give the Tigers a 65-64 lead with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining.
"We started out great, had wonderful pace and purpose and then in the last eight minutes of the first half we started trying to manufacture things," VanDerveer said. "Then I thought we were a little flat in the second half."
Some of the Tigers struggles on the glass inside Saturday can be attributed to starting center and leading rebounder Elizabeth Messick (Reno, NV) sitting out after spraining her ankle the day before against Hiram.
"We are still a young team learning to play together," VanDerveer said. "And without (Messick) it challenged us to be creative, to be flexible, to learn on the fly."
Sophomore forward Annika Awbrey (Saratoga) topped having the best performance of her career last night with a 12-point, four-rebound effort in 23 minutes played filling in for Messick.
Monmouth (Ill.) played primarily a 2-3-zone defense; the first time Oxy's faced a zone defense for the better part of a game this year. Chrystal Goodwin (Inglewood) hit a pair of threes and had 10 points off of the bench, stretching the Fighting Scotts' defense. Beside Goodwin though, Oxy was 1-15 from beyond the arc.
The Tigers return home to play their first game of 2012 on Jan. 3 against Johns Hopkins University at 2 p.m. in Rush Gymnasium.