The women’s basketball team’s season came to a close on Saturday night as the Panthers fell 65-54 in the conference finals to first-place Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, who the Panthers have not beaten since 2014.
The Athenas have now won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) for the fourth year in a row, including defeating the Panthers the last time they made it to the finals in 2014.
The Panthers struggled offensively in the first half, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps went into halftime with a 25-18 lead. The Panthers turned the game around in the third quarter, grabbing the lead for the first time with a 3-pointer from junior guard Jaime Hum-Nishikado as the score remained close throughout the quarter.
But the effort wasn’t enough to defeat the Athenas.
“I think we fought hard coming back from a deficit in the first half of the game,” said senior guard Lauren Sato. “But in the end, our shots just did not fall and we did not compensate for that on defense. I truly don’t believe (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps) is a better team than us – we just didn’t play all 40 minutes the way we should have.”
The Panthers had more shooting opportunities than the Athenas – 59 compared to 47 – but they shot under 30 percent in both the first and second quarters, as opposed to the Athenas’ 46 percent.
In its final 13 games of the season, Chapman’s only losses were to Claremont-Mudd Scripps, including a defeat that ended the team’s eight-game winning streak Feb. 18.
“It was definitely the toughest loss, especially it being my last game and not turning out the way I had envisioned,” Sato said. “Even though I wish I could go back in time and redo that game over again, I hope that the returners next year work even harder so that when the time comes around again, they will be successful.”
The Panthers bounced back after halftime, outscoring the Athenas 20-15 in the third quarter to set up a tense final 10 minutes with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps leading 40-38.
But Claremont found its scoring rhythm late, and the Panthers had to start fouling to try to keep the game close. The Athenas kept their cool from the free-throw line and scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to secure a 65-54 victory and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore guard Jaryn Fajardo led the Panthers with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“I think the freshmen and sophomores got a taste of the excitement,” Sato said. “I hope this experience has ignited a desire in them to work on their game for next season. If they stay motivated and dedicated, I do think Chapman can win (the SCIAC) next year.”
Read our live tweets of the game below.