Coach Bill Westphal is hopeful that his team's status will improve--on and off the court--when Occidental College plays host to the four-team Tiger tournament starting Friday at Rush gymnasium.
Occidental (6-7) has not had overwhelming crowd support this season. But the inexperienced Tigers may not have merited a dedicated following--at least not yet.
"It's a developmental year," Westphal said. "But I hope this will be good. Hopefully our students will stand behind the team and become more involved. It should bring the campus together."
Occidental will play Christ College of Irvine on Friday at 8 p.m. after Claremont plays Grand Rapids Baptist of Michigan at 6 p.m. The consolation and championship finals begin at 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
The Tigers had little trouble with Christ College in a 109-75 win earlier this season. But Occidental's season has been riddled by inconsistency. It is, however, more an indication of a lack of experience than talent. John Keister and Jim Cartoni are the only returning starters.
Chris Anderson, a 6-9 sophomore center, was a member of the junior varsity last season. He has improved steadily and is averaging 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
"I didn't know what to expect," Anderson said. "I didn't know what kind of people I would be going up against. I'm really happy with the improvement."
Anderson is not the only player adjusting to new responsibilities. Cartoni has been moved from point guard to shooting guard.
"My role has changed completely from last year," Cartoni said. "I'm really unhappy with the way I'm playing. I'll play great for a half, and then lousy for a half. I'm happy with the new position. But it's an adjustment that needs to be made."
Cartoni still has managed to lead the team with averages of 16.8 points and 4.2 assists a game.
Keister, a senior forward, is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
"This weekend will be a good test for us," Keister said. "Anderson has improved immensely. Last year we weren't sure if he was going to be able to contribute. But he's scoring and contributing a lot of rebounds."
Anderson's role will be of particular importance if Claremont and Occidental win their opening games and meet in the championship final. Claremont, the defending champion of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, has four returning starters and is favored to win the conference title. Occidental last season was fourth in the SCIAC with a 5-5 record. But Anderson has a three-inch height advantage over Claremont's tallest player.
"Their emphasis is on the outside game," Keister said. "If we can beat them inside we can take away any inside game. It would show that we're in their class. And it would keep us in the frame of mind that we're not the patsies that everyone thought we were in the beginning of the season."
Westphal said Occidental likely will take what opportunities the Claremont defense affords. The Tigers' outside shooting is, at this point, its strength, he said. Occidental attempts more than 15 three-point shots a game and is converting 43% from the field and 71% from the free-throw line. Guard Mike Guzman, the Tigers' best outside shooter, has made half of his 42 shots from three-point range this season. Cartoni has made 29 of 80 three-point attempts.
"Our outside shooting is ahead of our inside game right now," Westphal said. "Because sometimes the way we react to situations, we don't always make the right decision. Especially when we're shooting under pressure. You can drill on it all you want but in the course of the game it's different because it happens faster."
Westphal has rotated Keister, Anderson and John Crawley on the front line. Crawley, a 6-8 225-pound freshman, is averaging 5.4 points a game in limited playing time.
Occidental's starting lineup is complete with Guzman, who is averaging 9.6 points a game, and senior forward Alan Alietti, who is averaging 10.4 points a game. Alietti is the teams' best free-throw shooter, having made 26 of 27.
'Mister, we covet your bricks.'