Westmont College did it again to Southern California College Saturday night. The Warriors defeated the Vanguards, 67-66, in NAIA District 3 semifinal playoff action in front of 1,451 fans at Occidental College in Glendale.
With :43 seconds left to play, Warrior Troy Knetchel sank two free throws to put Westmont ahead, 67-66. When SCC couldn't work the ball inside for a final shot, it called timeout with :13 seconds remaining. But a screen set up down the baseline fell apart, and junior guard Ken Bardsley's 35-foot shot at the buzzer bounced off the heel of the basket, leaving SCC to try again next year for a trip to the NAIA District 3 finals.
The Vanguards and their fans stood quietly and stared at the scoreboard after the buzzer sounded, as if to ask, could this really be the way the season has ended?
SCC went undefeated in its first 11 games and ended regular-season play with another 11 straight victories. This was the season in which the Vanguards won their first outright Southern Division title in more than 10 years and posted their best record ever at 25-5 overall, 9-2 conference.
But SCC's hopes of making it the year that it would go all the way to the NAIA finals were dashed by Westmont Saturday night.
"Do you want tears or words?" SCC assistant coach Larry Hirst asked a reporter. "I can't tell you. There's not a worse feeling in the world."
SCC has not defeated Westmont, the defending NAIA District 3 champions, since 1976. Westmont, (24-5, 10-2) and Biola, which defeated Point Loma, 62-49, Saturday, will meet in the NAIA District 3 finals Wednesday at Occidental.
"Westmont has a lot of playoff experience having made the finals many times and played in Kansas City," SCC Coach Bill Reynolds said. "We still thought we could win, although we played catch-up most of the night. We just never could get the lead and the ball."
Both teams were cold in the opening minutes, missing easy jump shots and lay ups. When Westmont finally broke the cold spell and scored at the 18:11 mark in the first half, SCC's senior forward Neil Anderson, who scored a season-high 26 points, immediately took the ball downcourt to tie it up at 2-2.
But Westmont, much to SCC's dislike, kept the playing pace slow. The Warriors continually frustrated the Vanguards' attempts to get their fast-break offense going. It was a hard-fought, evenly paced game, which hurt the Vanguards, who prefer an up-tempo style of play.
Westmont never led by more than four points throughout the first half. SCC took the lead for the first time on a Sherwin Durham jump shot with 11:21 remaining in the half, but the Vanguards couldn't hold onto it. Each time SCC scored, Westmont answered in kind, and throughout the final 10 minutes before halftime, the score was tied five times.
With the Warriors up by three points with :04 seconds remaining in the half, Durham, who had 12 points and 8 assists, hit a 45-foot shot to put SCC within one point, 35-34.
But in the first two minutes of the second half, Westmont built its biggest lead of the night, 41-36. But, Bardsley, who totalled 12 points, quickly countered for the Vanguards, hitting three outside shots in a row to help SCC catch up.
With 3:51 remaining in the game, junior guard Randy McAllister gave the Vanguards their final lead of the night, 63-61, on an awkward lay up which sent McAllister tumbling onto the floor and the 500 SCC fans jumping to their feet to cheer. But on the next Vanguard possession, Durham overthrew a pass to McAllister, which cooled the comeback's pace and proved to be SCC's undoing.
"We beat a great team," Warrior Coach Chet Kammerer said. "SCC is a well-coached, talented team, and this is the best team they've ever had. We played hard, they played hard. It was a well-played, hard-fought game all the way."
Not quite, but close.
WESTMONT (67)--Jones 11, Larsen 13, Knechtel 20, Moore 10, Azain 5, Freeman 8.
SCC (66)--Ward 8, Anderson 26, Bruce 6, McAllister 2, Durham 12, Bardsley 12.
Halftime score--Westmont, 35-34.