LOS ANGELES — Makenzie Brandon (Seattle) scored 23 points, Katelyn Rowe (Carlsbad) grabbed 13 rebounds and the Occidental College women's basketball team clinched at least a share of its fifth consecutive regular season SCIAC championship by steadily pulling away from Cal Lutheran for a 62-47 win at Rush Gymnasium on Thursday.
With one regular season game left, Oxy (21-3, 12-1) sits alone in first with a 12-1 SCIAC record. The Tigers will win the conference regular season crown outright with either a win against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (15-9, 9-4), or if second-place Redlands (17-7, 11-2) loses to Cal Lu (16-8, 9-4) on the league's final day of regular-season competition on Saturday.
Regardless of what happens this weekend though, Oxy owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Redlands after beating the Bulldogs twice this season and will enter the four-team SCIAC postseason tournament as the No. 1 seed with home-court advantage.
It's a big night and one of the founding-member SCIAC schools adds another SCIAC championship to its history of success, but the Tigers have bigger plans. They'd like not to share the championship with the rival Bulldogs and have their sights set on winning their third SCIAC Tournament Championship, and earning the conference's automatic bid the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"I'm very excited for our team and that was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, so to have them reach it is, great. It's a symbol of people's hard work and investment," said Occidental coach Heidi VanDerveer, who's now a perfect 4 for 4 in league titles in four years as Oxy's head coach. "But our goal actually is to win every game. … To go out and do the best we can. I was almost as pleased with that. We went out and competed for 40 minutes against a very good team."
Rowe blocked three shots in the first five minutes of the second half that kick-started Oxy's transition offensive and more importantly, prevented the Regals' full court pressure, that turned the Tigers over 12 times in the first half compared to just six in the second, from getting set.
"Katelyn takes a lot of pride in her defense and she takes it personally when people score on her. I thought she got more aggressive and more assertive in the second half without fouling," VanDerveer said, adding that the Tigers perimeter players played a role in her success with "appropriate" help defense. "It was fun to see Katelyn kind of take a stand."
Stephanie Scamman (Northridge) grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Liz Little (Littleton, Colo.), who nailed a 3-pointer that capped a 7-0 run to start the second half, giving Oxy its first double-digit lead of the game, 37-26 with 15:04 left.
Cal Lu brought the lead within 10 four times in the second half, but Oxy answered each run with buckets of their own, never letting it shrink to less than five points.
Finally the Tigers opened up a comfortable 15-point cushion on a Marquisha Corley (Tucson, Ariz.) 17-footer, followed by a Scamman 3-pointer with 5:08 left to play.
Oxy outrebounded Cal Lutheran 45-33, an ingredient that was missing when Oxy lost its only conference game of the year at Cal Lu 54-50 on Jan. 21 — the Tigers grabbed six less boards than the Regals that game (40-34).
"(Our team) knows that they will play well if they do the things that they need to do, whether it's defense or offense," VanDerveer said. "In tonight's case, it was about rebounding."
Brandon grabbed 10 rebounds for her fifth double double, to go along with her conference-best 12th game with at least 20 points this season.
Chelsey Hastigan led a Regals team that didn't have a scorer in double digits, with nine points.
The Tigers are back at home trying to clinch sole-possession of the conference championship against CMS at Rush Gymnasium on Saturday at 5 p.m.
"Our goal is to be best team for 40 minutes night in and night out. Tonight we did that," VanDerveer said. "We're a mature enough team to refocus and get ready for Saturday. CMS is a good team and we'll have to start over with preparation and competitive nature."