University of Redlands shooter Alyssa Downs

University of Redlands shooter Alyssa Downs, 24 with ball, sends up a shot from the left corner while being guarded by Caltech defender in last Saturday night's three-point win over the visitors. Downs played a big part in the Lady Bulldogs' win at Claremont-Mudd three nights earlier. Redlands, unbeaten in SCIAC, holds down first place in the conference.

CLAREMONT — For the first time in years, Claremont-Mudd College was chasing Redlands in the SCIAC women’s basketball standings.

The Lady Bulldogs, at 5-0, went into the Lady Athenas’ sparkling Roberts Pavilion back on Jan. 15 with a solid three-game lead against a team that’s finished first every year since 2014.

That Redlands won, 49-47, came as no surprise to Lady Bulldogs’ coach Rich Murphy, even with some downside.

“Did you see the officiating in the first half?” he asked. “The physicality. We were looking for too many fouls.”

Trailing by 11 points, Redlands battled back.

It all came down to this: Julia Balesteri, a freshman from Pleasanton Amador High in Northern California, took a high-lofted inbounds pass to bucket the game-winning basket with 12 seconds left.

“Everyone else was covered,” said Murphy, noting Lady Athenas’ defenders were correctly defending both Cassandra Lacey and Alyssa Downs, Redlands’ top scoring threats.

Murphy (206 career wins at Redlands) not only claims wins against unbeatable Claremont, “but we were one of the first teams to beat them in this building.”

Maybe it only seems like Claremont wins every game. Murphy & Co. read an account of their 2019-20 chances in another area publication. He scoffed at the notion of being “a fill-in … since Claremont’s having a down season.”

For the first half against the Lady Athenas, that proclamation seemed accurate.

Halftime discussion, Redlands having been held without a field goal for the entire second quarter, had to focus on getting open shots.

“No,” he said, chuckling, “I didn’t cuss them out. I did tell them we will not go 0-for-7 in a quarter ever again.”

It was even worse than that, Coach. Claremont held Redlands without a basket for nearly 14 excruciating minutes.

That tailspin ended when Downs and Lacey started heating up. Downs hit a trio of three-pointers and Chyanne Pagkalinawan added another three. After three quarters, Redlands brought a onetime 11-point gap to 38-35.

The message was simple: “Never quit,” said Murphy. “We started hitting shots. We kept them off balance on the glass.”

One advantage for Redlands might’ve been a complete first-year coaching staff at Claremont, led by Chanel Murchison. She replaced Kristen Dowling, a onetime Lady Bulldog, who resigned last year to take on coaching at NCAA Division 1 Pepperdine.

Murchison aimed juniors Kate Parrish, Maezelle Millan and senior Lindsey Cleary at the visiting Lady Bulldogs — 31.4 points between that trio.

Murphy countered with his top guns ⎯ Downs’ 14.5 ppg, Lacey’s 10.1, plus team passing numbers that turn out a dozen assists a game split between nine players.

That’s just for the math majors, especially since both of these teams are likely guilty for spending more time on academics than shooting in a gym.

More for the math majors: Claremont had total advantages in rebounds (46-36), free throws (19-9), turnovers (10-8) and launched more shots (64-48). Redlands had Claremont on threes (4-2), assists (13-8) and blocked shots (6-3).

Hannah Jerrier, who had eight rebounds and two points before fouling out, had a tough task defending Cleary and Parrish in the key. Kellis Dack, who played all 40 minutes, had a team-high nine rebounds.

“I took a chance,” said Murphy, “keeping [Jerrier] in when she got her fourth [foul].” Jerrier’s exit accounted for Balesteri’s entrance.

A reminder: Claremont’s only a basket, or two, from taking a 5-0 record of its own into the showdown ⎯ losses of 69-63 to Whittier, 80-78 to Pomona-Pitzer and 85-82 in double OT against Chapman.

This was no ordinary 2-3 squad.

In other games, Cleary hit two big shots ⎯ one to get Claremont into that OT against Chapman and another to beat Cal Lutheran by two points. She nearly pulled that same stunt against Redlands, hitting not one, but two crucial shots in the final 27 ticks.

Somehow Balesteri got her hands on the ball for the crucial tie-breaking play. She wasn’t the first or even second option, grinned Redlands’ coach.

That winning shot, said Murphy, “wasn’t the play we talked about in the timeout, that’s for sure.”

 GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL

(Records as of Jan. 19)

Aquinas (14-7, 6-2 Ambassador) — Ontario Christian’s six-point win over Aquinas led the Lady Royals into first place, but the Lady Falcons bounced back with two straight wins -- 49-44 over Upland Western Christian and 53-30 win over Redlands Arrowhead Christian. Mia Vigil and Maya Gonzalez combined on 37 points. Gonzalez came up with 13 steals off Aquinas’ pressure against ACA.

Citrus Valley (10-8, 1-2 Citrus Belt) — This year’s CBL race has turned quickly into a Yucaipa vs. Cajon match race with all other squads battling for third place. Cajon’s 75-33 win over the Lady Blackhawks left no doubt as to the 1-2 duel atop the CBL. CV and REV, which are both .500 teams, will likely duel for third place

San Gorgonio (13-7, 0-4 San Andreas) — It all seemed so hopeful during non-league play and tournament play before SAL play got underway for the Lady Spartans. League play has proven to be highly competitive, counting losses against Lake Arrowhead Rim of the World, Fontana Jurupa Valley and perennial powerhouse Arroyo Valley, not to mention last Friday’s loss to Rialto Eisenhower.

WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL

(Records as of Jan. 19)

Cal State San Bernardino (1-13, 1-10 California Collegiate) — In a rebuilding year under first-year Lady Coyotes’ coach Casandra Renno, it’s been tough.

She’s got four freshmen and two sophomores on a roster that includes seniors Kayla Bibbs and Tehya Burroughs, who go 1-2 in scoring.

The Lady Coyotes are in an apparent danger of setting a record for their worst-ever season. In the school’s 1985-86 debut season playing independent NCAA Division III, they were 4-20 overall.

Back in 1991-92, Cal State endured a 2-10 in conference play. Both marks are possibly on the line in 2019-2020.

San Bernardino Valley (8-9 2-1 Inland Empire) — Maybe the biggest stat in the Lady Wolverines’ 66-47 win over Copper Mountain College-Yucca Valley was the 49 minutes coach Christina Torres got from her bench. CMC could only counter with two players, totaling 24 minutes, in SBVC’s second straight IEC triumph.

There’s no real surprise in the current nature of the IEC title chase, especially since 2018 state champion Mt. San Jacinto (17-2, 5-0) is in firm control of this year’s championship. MSJ plays at SBVC this week.

University of Redlands (12-4, 7-0 SCIAC) — Any doubts about how much of a team concept used by the Lady Bulldogs should be cast aside: Three nights after beating Claremont, the Lady Bulldogs returned home to beat Caltech. Lacey hit a team-high 16 points, Hannah Jerrier had a team-high 10 rebounds and Alyssa Downs added a team-high seven assists while almost everyone had a hand in trying to shut down Caltech’s Sahana Saikumar, who had 27 points.

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