Photo by Bob Paz.
PASADENA, Calif. (Dec. 5, 2015) – Sophomore David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood) turned in a decisive performance off the bench to fuel the Caltech men's basketball team on a rally from an 11-point deficit to a 58-50 victory over UC Santa Cruz on Saturday night. The point guard notched four points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals against just one turnover in the second half alone.
"We've seen David do everything he did tonight so much in practice and he's flashed it in games, so this wasn't surprising," Head Coach Dr. Eslinger said. "The best part was that he played like a floor leader, kept us organized and composed and made plays at the end of the shot clock, which we've really been looking for. I love his feistiness and pursuit, and his free throws to ice it at the end - the more situations like that he's put in, the better he and we will be.'
This marked the first game in which Caltech has come back from a halftime deficit to win since Dec. 14, 2013 – coincidentally at home against UCSC. The Beavers held a narrow edge in shooting (39-33 percent), won the battle on the boards for the fourth time in six games (+10) and kept level in points off turnovers for the first time this year to overcome a six-point halftime margin. Caltech improves to 2-4 overall while UCSC drops to 1-6.
"This was a heck of a win," Eslinger said. "Especially considering the position we were in, clawing back from six down at the half and 11 on either side of halftime, this was the kind of game we needed. This gave us an opportunity to make stops, take better care of the ball and keep our composure to stay in it, and I was incredibly proud of how the guys corrected some past mistakes and stuck with it. What we did in this game will have a huge impact on our play the rest of the season."
Faced with the absence of their second-leading scorer, senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge), for the first time in his career, every player made a positive contribution crucial to the victory. Senior Robert Anderson (Orono, Minn. / Orono) in particular drew praise from Eslinger for stepping up on short notice to make an efficient first career start, netting five points (2-for-3 FG, 1-for-1 3FG) with an assist and a steal without committing a turnover.
"Rob absolutely seized the moment and didn't hesitate in his first career start," Eslinger said. "He has always kept working over the years when his moment came tonight, he was ready for it. He's a great example for everyone on the team. Everyone stepped up tonight, and it was a great chance for them to do so with Kc out. What they did tonight will help us down the stretch."
Junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) knocked down the first basket of the game on a three-point attempt but UCSC scored on back-to-back possessions off a turnover and on an offensive rebound to lead 4-3 at the 17:22 mark. Junior Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) converted a three-point play to put Caltech back on top, if only briefly as the Banana Slugs rattled off an 11-2 run that included seven unanswered points to stretch the margin to seven at 15-8. Lee slowed their momentum with a three-pointer following a steal, but the visitors netted another seven straight points to take their biggest lead of the game at 22-11 exactly halfway through the first half.
The margin held between nine and 11 points for the ensuing four minutes, when Kawashima and junior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) combined to score the Beavers' next 10 points to cut the deficit back to five. The Banana Slugs connected on a three-pointer with 3:27 left before the break and junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) responded with his first bucket of the game with 2:11 remaining, but neither team would score again and the game went to halftime with USCS up 31-25.
The second half started inauspiciously for Caltech as UCSC regained its game-high 11-point lead just a minute and a half into play. The foes traded turnovers and missed shots over the next two possessions when Anderson lifted the Caltech bench onto its feet with a spot-on three-pointer from the corner just inches in front of his teammates. It became a completely different game from that point as the Beavers committed just five more turnovers and shots 43 percent from the field the rest of the way. After a UCSC free throw made it a nine-point game at 37-28 with 15:54 left on the clock, the Beavers held the Banana Slugs scoreless over the next four minutes while running off 11 points to take a 39-37 lead, scoring on four straight possessions.
"Our halfcourt defense was great all game, it was the transition baskets that continued to hurt us in the first half," Eslinger said. "Once we started stringing together those stops and stayed composed with the ball, our offense clicked and we were able to pull back into the game. I have to credit our assistants too for a spot-on scout and gameplan - very thorough and our prep was terrific."
Caltech hit a rough patch with three turnovers on consecutive possessions over just 1:08 which allowed UCSC to move back ahead, 44-39, but the Beavers hung tough and got over the hump. LeBaron hit another second-chance layup on an offensive board, Lee drilled another trey and Al-Rayes – shooting just 55 percent from the free throw line entering the night – sunk both attempts on the next possession to regain the lead with 5:48 remaining.
The Banana Slugs tied things up at 46-46 with 4:06 left to play and it was another minute before Caltech hit its next shot, but it was a big one as Galliani knocked down his third trifecta on an assist from Al-Rayes after the big man hit the offensive glass. Kasahima hit a nice floater moments later to make it a two-score game, but it was still far from over. A pair of free throws brought UCSC back within three at the 1:59 mark, but Lee earned a trip to the line at the other end and converted his second attempt to make it 52-48 with 1:36 on the clock, at which point Eslinger called timeout.
"At the timeout, we just set up our defense, reminded the guys of the moment and conveyed what we wanted to do on offense," Eslinger said. "They executed perfectly."
His message sunk in as the defense forced a miss on one end and Kawashima made the play of the game on the offensive end, driving into the lane and lobbing a pass across to Lee, who laid it in as the shot clock expired for the six-point lead. The Banana Slugs kept it interesting with a jumper, but with just 26 seconds left had to resort to fouling. Galliani and Kawashima each knocked down both their attempts to put the game away to the expansive home crowd's delight.
Lee recorded his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 boards while Galliani paced Caltech with 15 points and added eight rebounds. Kawashima finished with 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and added seven rebounds to go with his three assists and four steals. Al-Rayes blocked three shots and grabbed seven rebounds.
"Larry played huge for us, building on a great week in practice," Eslinger said. "He really executed in the second half, and his leadership and focus were evident all game. Ricky battled after fighting illness the past couple days, Nasser sank those clutch free throws and LeBaron was just tough, doing whatever we asked from bringing the ball up to being fed in the post."
Eslinger and the Beavers will look to build a streak after a 10-day break for final exams on Wednesday, Dec. 16 when they head up to UCSC for a rematch.