CLAREMONT, Calif. (Jan. 3, 2017) – Fronted by sophomore guards Samantha D'Costa (San Jose, Calif. / St. Francis) and Grace Peng (San Ramon, Calif. / California), the Caltech women's basketball team won its first SCIAC game of the 2017-18 season when they defeated Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, 62-59, Wednesday evening. The win marks the Beavers' third straight against the Sagehens, dating back to last year.
The duo picked a good time to put together two of the best individual efforts of their Caltech careers. D'Costa led all players with 23 points and 15 rebounds to go along with three blocks while Peng scored 21 points and added three rebounds, three assists in addition to knocking down two three-pointers. Together, the guards combined for more than two-thirds of Caltech's points on a night where the Beavers needed the two players to perform at their absolute best.
The result yielded the team with its first conference win of the season, and with it a completely different winning feeling than the one encountered following its first win at St. Katherine's back in December.
"Conference wins are huge," Head Coach Bridgette Reyes said. I think the difference between a win like this one and the game at St. Katherine's is this game was a constant battle for control. We trailed by nine at halftime and had to battle in the final quarter to cut the deficit. I think our kids really wanted to win this game, and this time that was enough."
Caltech won the battle in the paint thanks to D'Costa and her superior number, but also thanks to center Elizabeth Eiden (White Plains, N.Y. / Holy Child) who finished the game with nine rebounds and a game-high six blocks, four of which came in the first half. The effort bumps both players into the top 10 for leading SCIAC rebounders. The Beavers outrebounded the Sagehens, 48-37, and the performance is magnified by the notion that this is just the second time they have won the rebounding battle this season. The first time came against St. Katherine, which resulted in the first Caltech victory of the season. This time, a superior effort level put the Beavers over the top.
"Our team crashed the glass extremely hard," Reyes said. "The effort level was huge for us and made the difference, and that's especially important when you're not playing to your full potential. It's something we addressed at half. We knew it was going to take a team to win this game as opposed to individuals and we did a good job of stringing possessions together until we finally got ahead."
The Beavers trailed the Sagehens, 34-25, at halftime, but began to see a turnaround following a 21-point third quarter where they nearly matched their first half total in just one quarter of play. Peng and D'Costa accounted for 17 of the 21 points and eight of them came at the free throw line. Caltech shot 19-for-24 from the foul line and hit its final four free throws when it mattered most. Junior guard Nika Haleftiras (San Diego, Calif. / Our Lady of Peace) fortified the rally when she connected on her only three-pointer of the game with 44 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to one point. It took nearly 40 seconds, however for the Beavers to find the net again. Following a Sagehens turnover, Peng drew a foul and buried both free throws to put the Beavers up one point and give them their first lead since the first quarter. Caltech drew another turnover out of its opponent on the inbound, and the resulting foul led to D'Costa icing the game with two more exclamation-point free throws.
Ultimately, the final two minutes came down to the visitors catching a second wind and reaching a mental level they had not yet reached prior to Wednesday.
"I think the win says a lot about our team," Reyes said. "It took heart, determination and a belief in ourselves that I'm not sure we had to start the season and until tonight we hadn't shown the ability to fully grasp the concept of hope and belief. It was by no means a perfect game but when the going got tough we didn't put our heads down and pout about it. Instead, we got tough, and that helped us pull out the win."
Reyes and the Beavers will finish up their three-game road stint at the University of Redlands on Saturday, Jan. 6.