THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A physical battle between two of the top teams in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference went to the host Regals as Cal Lutheran erased a 14-point second half deficit in a 70-68 comeback effort over Occidental tonight in the Gilbert Arena.
As anticipated the teams were neck in neck most of the game as Oxy entered the evening with a share of the league lead and CLU sat tied in second.
Never separated by more than five points in the opening half, the teams were tied five times and the lead changed six times. With just under nine minutes to go in the first half Cal Lutheran used an 8-2 run, sparked by an Erica Whitley three-pointer as the shot clock neared expiration, to make a move. A Rachel Heagy lay-up would give the Regals the largest lead of the half for either side at 26-21.
Occidental would not go away quietly, though, chipping back into it, taking a 27-26 lead before Whitley knocked down her third three-pointer of the half to put CLU back ahead, 29-27, going into the locker rooms.
After the intermission, Oxy used a 10-0 run to open a 37-29 advantage over Cal Lutheran. A quick timeout allowed the Regals to regroup. Keeley Anderson broke that scoreless streak with a lay-up and Starla Wright followed not long after with an and-one before Anderson hit another bucket to pull within three.
The Tigers had other plans, using another big run over the next three minutes to outscore CLU 11-2, taking an 11-point lead. The Black and Orange pushed that lead to as many as 14 on a Liz Littlethree-pointer at the 7:03 mark.
Possession for possession, Cal Lutheran battled their way back into the game. Natalie Stone cut the deficit to single digits on a three-pointer at the 5:14 mark, followed by baskets from Channing Fleischmann, Anderson and Fleischmann for another and-one on the next three CLU possessions to pull within a point.
At the 3:07 mark Fleischmann made another three-pointer to give the home squad a 66-65 advantage, one that Stone would push to five points following a pair of free-throws with 22 ticks to play. Fleischmann also came up big on the defensive end of the court in the final minute, recording a huge block, the only CLU one of the night, on a Michelle Naito-Lo shot attempt.
Occidental and game leading scorer Makenzie Brandon hurled up a three-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation to leave the final at 70-68.
Fleischmann and Whitley tallied 15 and 14 points, respectively and Whitley added 10 rebounds for a double-double. She also handed out a game-high four assists, sharing the lead with Naito-Lo. Anderson, who was 4-for-4 from the field for 10 points off the bench, and Jazmyne Porter dished out three assists apiece tonight. Heagy finished with nine boards and nine points for the Regals.
Cal Lutheran forced 17 Oxy turnovers as seven different players recorded a steal. The Regals shot 44.9 percent from the field as a team and held Occidental to a 33.3 shooting percentage.
Brandon earned game highs with her 25-point, 13-rebound double-double. Elizabeth Messick also reached double figures for Oxy with 11 rebounds and Marquisha Corley scored 10 for the Tigers. Messick was responsible for six blocks and three steals in the loss.
The win lifts the Regals to sole possession of second place, behind undefeated La Verne (4-0 SCIAC) in the league standings while Occidental falls into a third place tie with Redlands.
Cal Lutheran (11-2, 4-1 SCIAC) will travel to Whittier on Thursday, Jan. 10 to play the Poets at 7:30 p.m.