LA VERNE, Calif. (Jan. 21, 2017) – Senior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) became the latest Caltech men's basketball player to respond to a season-low performance with a season-best display in Saturday's 78-73 SCIAC victory at the University of La Verne.
Galliani, who is among the team's senior leaders, scored 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting to lead all scorers and help the Beavers earn their third SCIAC win of the season. The guard was especially sharp from beyond the arc, sinking four of his six attempted three-pointers. He also factored into things on the glass, coming up with five rebounds while chipping in with two assists – all of this after mustering just one point at Pomona-Pitzer Colleges earlier in the week.
"Ricky was terrific and he is a true senior," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. " [He] knows what he has to do to prepare. He came into practice yesterday and worked hard like he always does and really, the team had a great practice yesterday. [We were] very focused on our plan. Our staff puts a lot of effort into trying to reach guys in different ways and coaching the person. It's just really fulfilling to see the players respond with such engagement."
Galliani was far from the only Beaver to factor significantly into the win. Sophomore Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / St. Margaret's) dropped 15 points off the bench and junior David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood) made the most of his recent insertion back into the starting lineup by scoring 13 points to go with four rebounds. Senior center Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) nearly came away with his second consecutive double-double, totaling 10 points and nine rebounds as well as three assists and two blocks.
La Verne entered the game fresh off a key victory over California Lutheran University that had vaulted the Leopards into second place in the SCIAC behind unbeaten Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, but the Beavers made their presence felt early, leading by as many as 15 points with just under three minutes to play in the first half.
The Leopards trimmed the margin to single digits on two occasions in the second half, eventually coming nearly all the way back to make it a one-possession game at 70-67 with 2:30 remaining as Caltech went more than four minutes without scoring a point and more than five without hitting a basket. Immediately following the La Verne trey that made it a three-point game, the Beavers found themselves in some trouble and were forced to call a timeout with just four seconds left on the shot clock.
Eslinger called for the inbounds pass to go to Al-Rayes on the block and the big man did what was needed, spinning to his right for the hook shot and putting Caltech back up by five. Moments later, ULV was called for traveling and at the other end, senior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) set a hard pick to free up freshman Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom) for a pull-up jumper at the free throw line, a shot which the rookie converted with the utmost calm to all but put the game out of reach with 1:22 to play. What would have been an eight-point margin of victory was cut to five as the Leopards nailed a late three-pointer to make the final score 78-73.
"We want to emphasize effort and focus and grit and we can take examples from every game that show what it takes to be successful," Eslinger said. "We want to remain confident and composed and humble. There's always something to improve. When everyone is ready and energetic it really boosts our entire team."
Caltech set a tone by shooting 50 percent from the field in the first frame and maintained their lead thanks to sharp, efficient shooting throughout the second half. Galliani went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and 3-for-3 from the perimeter in the second half. La Verne outscored Caltech in the second half, but as the Beavers have learned in previous games this season, timely and accurate shooting can be tough to overcome. This time, however, the Beavers found themselves on the better end of the shooting exchange, topping season team averages in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage. Although the Beavers were narrowly outshot from the field (44.0-43.8 percent), they came out on top in rebounding, turnovers and free throw percentage to make the difference.
"We looked at tonight as another game in the very tough SCIAC," Eslinger said. "La Verne is very good and very explosive and the coaching staff did a superb job preparing our team. And the players responded with their focus and execution."
Eslinger and the Beavers, now 3-4 in conference play and just one game out of the final postseason tournament qualifying berth with one game remaining in the first half of the double-round-robin format, will look to make it two in a row when they host Chapman University (7-9 overall, 2-5 SCIAC) on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.