LOS ANGELES — Knocking off three unbeaten teams in a row would have been a great way for the Occidental College women's basketball team to start the holiday break, especially with the third being against a top-ten team.
On the heels of their two biggest wins of the season that handed SCIAC rivals Chapman and Redlands their first losses, the Tigers jumped out in front of No. 6 Lewis & Clark in both halves, but slowly lost two nine-point leads and ironically lost by that same amount, 62-53 in non-conference action at Rush Gymnasium on Sunday.
"This was a great test and challenge for our team to go up against a top-ten opponent," Occidental coach Anahit Aladzhanyan said. "I thought we played really well and controlled most of the game, but foul trouble and turnovers let them back in it each time."
Oxy's Elizabeth Messick (Reno, Nev.) was dominant inside, coming up two blocks short of a triple-double for the second time this season. The 6-foot-3 post player finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots. It was her fifth double-double of the season.
"She just keeps getting better and better with experience and is really growing into being a dominant post player for us," Aladzhanyan said.
Messick had 12 points, 18 rebounds and eight blocks in a 52-46 win over Linfield on Nov. 17.
Kristina Williams led three Pioneers (10-0) in double figures with 15; Sara Villanueva added 14 and Tayler Wang had 13.
Oxy (4-3) was up by nine points in each half and led for about 30 minutes of the game. Michelle Naito-Lo (Monterey Park) made one of two free throws to make it 21-12 with 9:45 on the clock in the first half and Alyssa Mort (Tucson, Ariz.) scored two of her eight points to give Oxy a 41-32 edge with 12:57 left in the second.
Oxy remained in the driver's seat in the second half until Jessica Rodriguez snatched a crucial offensive rebound off a free throw and kicked it out to Katie Anderson for a three pointer and a four-point possession. The basket put the Lewis & Clark up 48-47 with 6:21 to play and the Pioneers kept the lead for the rest of the game.
Naito-Lo knocked down a clutch three-pointer to bring Oxy within one, 54-53 with 2:21 to play, but the Pioneers made 8 of 10 free throws in the last 2 minutes, preventing Oxy from regaining the lead.
The Tigers played more than half of the game without leading scorer Makenzie Brandon (Seattle), who was held to just nine points in 18 minutes due to foul trouble — the first time she hasn't been in double digits since scoring eight in eight minutes on Feb. 4 in a blowout victory over Caltech.
Brandon sat after picking up third at 5:04 in the first half and had to play cautiously after being hit with her fourth foul, one that appeared to have been committed by Messick with 18:07 left in the second half.
Everyone else on the team stepped up. Mort had seven rebounds to go along with her eight points in 27 minutes off of the bench, Crystal Goodwin (Inglewood) scored seven in the first half and Marquisha Corley (Tucson, Ariz.) had four steals.
The Tigers started hot and balanced offensively. Brandon, Corley, Messick and Mort made layups and Liz Little (Littleton, Colo.) and Goodwin made three pointers to give Oxy a 14-4 lead with 15:27 on the clock, forcing Lewis & Clark to take a timeout.
Sara Villanueva drilled a three to give the Pioneers their first lead of the game, 23-21 with 4:17 left in the first and Lewis & Clark took a 30-26 lead into the locker room.
Lewis & Clark hosts Linfield on Dec. 31 in their next game. The Tigers will break 20 days for the holiday and then face Blackburn on Dec. 29 and Worcester on Dec. 30 in the Tiger/Panther Classic at Occidental.