Pomona-Pitzer back in the dance

More news about: Pomona-Pitzer
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By Brian Lester

Charles Katsiaficas has been coaching at Pomona-Pitzer for more than 30 years, winning nearly 500 games along the way. And for the first time since 2008, he has the Sagehens in the NCAA tournament.

They are in Washington this weekend for the opening round, taking on Texas-Dallas tonight for the right to advance to the round of 32 and a potential second-round showdown with Whitman, a team they defeated 112-109 in double overtime in November. It’s the only loss the Blues have suffered this season.

But ask Katsiaficas about that possibility of another game with Whitman and he will tell you his team isn’t focused on another matchup with the Blues. If it happens, it happens.

“Whitman is a great team and it’s always good to play great teams wherever you can,” Katsiaficas said. “But we are focused on Texas-Dallas right now. Period.”

The Sagehens come into the tournament as champions of the SCIAC, grabbing momentum after dropping its final game of the regular season to Occidental (64-63).

They earned a rematch with the Tigers in the conference tournament title game and rolled to a 68-45 victory.

Prior to that regular-season loss, Pomona-Pitzer had won 18 consecutive games, which is more games than they won all of last season when they finished 15-12 and lost in the title game of the SCIAC tournament.

That loss served as motivation for this team and this season. The Sagehens are 25-2 heading into the NCAA tournament and feeling good about their chances.

SCIAC tournament MVP Micah Elan wasn’t available for an interview this week due to the tight schedule but the junior guard talked in a postgame interview on the school’s website about motivation for the season after the Sagehens’ win on Saturday.

Winning a title has been his goal since he came to Pomona-Pitzer. It’s finally a reality.

“This has been a goal since we set foot on campus,” Elan said. “We didn’t care about the regular season. We didn’t care about rankings. We didn’t care about any of that. We just wanted the SCIAC championship. We worked really hard all year long. We’re so happy we got it done.”

Leadership has been crucial to the team’s turnaround this season. It’s why the team has 10 more wins than it did a season ago.

“We have tremendous leadership from our players this year and that has helped us on our winning path,” Katsiaficas said. “They have bought into the culture and process of getting better all year long.”

Pomona-Pitzer is putting up 82.3 points per game and allowing 67.6.

It won its first four games this season and then didn’t lose again until Feb. 16. The Sagehens crushed Caltech 90-67 to close the conference regular season and edged Redlands 79-77 in the semifinals of the four-team conference tournament.

The prospect of going to the NCAA Tournament didn’t look too good early on against Occidental in the title game. The Sagehens trailed 16-2 with 11:36 left in the first half but went into halftime up 31-22.

Elan finished with 21 points in the win. Daniel Rosenbaum scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists.

Elan is one of the Sagehens’ top scoring threats, averaging 15.6 points per game. He has knocked down 55 3-pointers and is an 83.3 percent shooter from the free-throw line. Elan is also the team’s assist leader (118).

Rosenbaum, a senior guard, leads the team in scoring at nearly 20 points per outing (19.1). He’s also grabbing close to six rebounds (5.8) per game. He is the top outside shooting threat, having knocked down 57 shots from beyond the arc, and he’s dished out 62 assists.

Fellow senior guard Corbin Koch has been instrumental to Pomona-Pitzer’s run as well, averaging 9.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Both Koch and Elan hit the 1,000-point milestone in their careers this season, and behind the leadership of those two, along with Rosenbaum, it’s hardly a surprise Pomona-Pitzer is playing basketball in March.

“Micah, Dan and Corbin provide this team with leadership and maturity, setting an example every day and communicating with the group,” Katsiaficas said. “They have given us a leadership all year long and that leadership has helped us win a lot of games.”

Four others on the team average at least five points per game for a Pomona-Pitzer team that is carrying the banner for Southern California in the tournament.

“Our roster is very deep this season,” Katsiaficas said. “We have had a lot of contributions from a lot of different people in different games. We haven’t had to rely on one or two people carrying the load night in and night out. That depth has carried us through the ups and downs of the schedule.”

And the Sagehens hope it carries them to one more win tonight.