Poet Basketball getting their hoops up for playoffs

Sheila Samson

FOR THE QC

There is only one goal that the Purple and Gold hope to achieve this season, which is to make the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Postseason Tournament. Both Men and Women’s basketball sit in fifth place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Standings (Men 8-6, Women, 7-8) as they gained another win this season against Occidental College (Oxy). 

Last Saturday, Feb. 10, fourth-year guard Louis Kurihara topped off the win 74-73 with a jumper and finished off an ‘and one.’ For his fourth year as part of the program and first year as Head Coach, Mark Jensen has a chance to be satisfied for these upcoming games. 

“Where we came from the first half of the season — first half of conference at least — to get to where we’re at now and actually have a chance … it feels really good because, at a point, we weren’t in a good spot,” said Jensen. 

In hopes of redeeming those upsetting losses throughout the season, Coach Jensen takes action. “We made a couple of changes in our lineup. Our players have been really focused,” said Coach Jensen. “These last five or six games have turned around and gave us a shot.”

As he keeps his team disciplined with less restrictions, he has noticed nothing but improvement throughout practices and games. The team has put more work in during practices in the last month, focusing mainly on everyone’s shooting accuracy. According to Jensen, the team’s shooting needed the most attention and improvement. For Jensen, and those who play basketball — no matter if a team possesses the best game strategies or different surprising elements, when it comes down to it, a player either shoots well or they do not.

 “Playing well — doing well as a team even if we have an off day or not — in the end, if we don’t shoot well, [we are] gonna lose,” said Jensen. “These last five or six games did us well because we shot the ball better. We spent more time on shooting. I hope we keep shooting well because, truthfully, the way that we play — we play really fast. There are more possessions in our games compared to normal games.”

 Kurihara, averaging 12.6 Points Per Game (PTS/G) who also scored two game winning shots against University of Redlands and Occidental, was named SCIAC athlete of the week for the second time. His outstanding efforts have made Coach Jensen proud. “I feel absolutely great for him. As I’ve coached him for four years, I’ve seen him grow and start off as someone who is very timid, quiet, and shy,” said Coach Jensen. “Now he’s grown into this confident leader and captain of our team, and I’ve been waiting for that for four years.” 

Along with Kurihara, fourth-year guard Eric Davis has proved himself a great ball player. Averaging 9.7 PTS/G, 5.9 Rebound Per Game (REB/G), and 3.3 Assists Per Game (A/G), Davis is as confident as Coach Jensen in chasing Claremont Mudd Scripps for this upcoming game. 

“At the beginning of the year, myself and my team didn’t expect for us to be in the situation we are in right now, but our vision of winning a conference championship and getting to the NCAA tournament is very much still alive,” said Davis. “Regardless of what has happened in the past, we just have to worry about what is in front of us and that’s Claremont and Pomona for these last two home games, which are even more important than the last game against Oxy.”

Davis’s expectations for the team is to see them put their defensive efforts to the test — that being their weakest aspect — throughout these next two games. “We have to keep playing our best brand of Whittier College Basketball, and the rest will take care of itself,” said Davis. “I feel like this year’s team is the start of a legacy for Whittier College basketball, so there is a lot more on the table than just winning the ship.”

On the other hand, the women’s team dominated Occidental 61-55 on the road. Fourth-year guard Emilee Dy describes the value and importance of all the teams they have played.  “It is essential that we get better every game, win or lose,” said Dy. “However, personally, being a senior and taking in consideration [the next game] could be my last game, it’ll be an emotional one for me and I hope that we take home a [win].”

According to Dy, having dance parties in the team room as well as having lunch together for pre-game rituals helps keep the team in a positive mindset in preparation for their next game. 

“I expect to make sure that the team is prepared and ready to learn for next year’s program. We are young, so it was a rebuilding year, but I fully believe the ladies have the potential to be one of the best teams that are out here with the talent they have,” said Dy. 

First-year starting point guard Teani White has set expectations for herself as well as her team. For a strong defensive player who sees the court, she impacts the team significantly by controlling the point guard position. Her teammates look to her to facilitate the ball and get rebounds to kick the ball out for open shots. She has 85 rebounds for the season and 36 assists total.

 “We still were able to grow in other aspects of the game. We built a lot of team chemistry for the upcoming years, which will only benefit us on and off the court.”

Also being religious along with a majority of the women’s team, the Poets pray before every game allowing them to stay humble as a reminder of who they play for and why. “It feels kind of surreal, but it is a good feeling to know that in our first years, we were able to compete with the top teams,” said White. “Having seven freshmen on a team of 11 players makes things more exciting for the years to come because we can only go up from here.”