Despite a horrendous shooting percentage in the first half, the Santa Barbara girls basketball team rallied back to hold a late lead against Orange Lutheran in the semifinal of the consolation bracket at the Tournament of Champions.
Up four with under a minute to go the Dons could not hold on and two late three’s from OLU’s Caitlin Muller gave the visiting Lancers a 43-41 victory on Friday at JR Richards Gymnasium.
With the loss, Santa Barbara will try to finish in seventh place when it plays today at 9 a.m.
“Well you don’t want to leave their best player open for the last two shots, that was a mistake. The kids probably think I’m brilliant because I mentioned that after the game but again, hopefully, we learn from it. Oprah said ‘failure is a good thing as long as you point you in the right direction.’ Hopefully, it’ll point us in the right direction because that was a tough end,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said.
The Dons were up 40-36 with about 40 seconds left when the Lancers intentionally fouled Caia Trimble and sent her to the foul line for a one-and-one. Trimble would miss the foul shot and on the ensuing possession, Santa Barbara fouled Orange Lutheran’s Talia Sonsma.
Sonsma would make the first but miss the second. The Lancers grabbed the rebound and put a shot back up that missed, but then Muller grabbed the rebound, passed the ball, ran back to the three-point line, called for the ball, then sank the tying three with 24 seconds to go.
An overanxious OLU team then fouled Trimble again. This time, Trimble made the first but would miss the second.
The Lancers drove the ball down the court when they kicked it out to Muller who was wide open in the corner. She again sank the shot, this time with 8.7 seconds left, to give her team a 43-41 lead.
Out of a timeout, the Dons drove it down and Athena Saragoza, who had made four three-pointers in the fourth period alone, took the final shot with time winding down from deep. It would miss the rim at the buzzer, giving the Lancers the victory.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have given the ball to me. I would have just told the point guard, Caia, to just take it herself and hopefully get a foul call but that’s just the way it went this time,” Saragoza said after the game about the final play.
Despite being tough on herself for the ending, Saragoza was a key reason why the Dons were even in the contest at the end.
Saragoza, after shooting just 1-for-11 in the first half, shot 5-of-14 in the second half scoring 16 of her 23 points in the final two quarters.
In the fourth period specifically, Saragoza shot 4-for-7 from deep to score 12 of the teams 15 points.
“It was really hard at the beginning but my teammates kept giving me the courage to keep shooting, and they just, they believed in me more than I do sometimes,” Saragoza said.
“I know my teammates count on me a lot and I have taken more of a leadership role on this team especially shooting and our plays are kind of set up for me around the three-point line so I just want to perform for them.”
In the first half, nobody for Santa Barbara could get a shot to fall. The Dons shot just 2-of-27 in the first 16 minutes of the contest, with Saragoza and Trimble making the two shots.
Lucky for Santa Barbara, Orange Lutheran did not shoot much better, taking just a 21-9 lead at the break.
“Teams need to shoot high percentage shots and we forgot that concept for quite a while, so we figured that out. It usually takes us about a quarter to figure that out but I think it took us a little more than a half for our shot selection to get better,” Butcher said.
Trailing 29-15 with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter, the Dons finally got some shots to fall, ending the frame on an 11-1 run. Trimble scored eight of her 13 points in the period to get her team back within four to start the fourth.
A strong drive to the rack by Trimble, then a three from Saragoza, gave the Dons their first lead of the game at 31-30 with 7:14 left.
OLU cut the lead at 37-36 with 1:56 remaining but another three from Saragoza gave them the 40-36 lead before ultimately falling 43-41.
This was the Dons’ fourth two-point loss of the season.
“I had fun in this game and it was exciting. I just hope we can learn from it and get better next game,” Butcher said.