LOS ANGELES. – Holding onto a slim one-point lead with just under six minutes to play, Linfield went without a field goal for the rest of the game, allowing Occidental to rally for the 52-46 victory Saturday night at Rush Gymnasium in the season opener for both teams.
The Tigers, five-time defending champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, are now 1-0 on the young season after outscoring the Wildcats (0-1) of the Northwest Conference 14-7 over the final 5:51. All of Linfield’s final points in the closing minutes came on free throws.
Kaely Maltman led the visitors with a game-high 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while the home team was led by a trio of double-digit scorers in Elizabeth Messick (12 points), Makenzie Brandon (10) and Michelle Naito (10). Messick had a monster game for the Tigers, coming up two blocks shy of a triple-double with 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
Katelyn Henson finished the game with a career-high 18 rebounds, the fifth-highest single game total in Linfield women’s basketball history. She also added five points, three steals and one assist.
Maltman and Henson got the ‘Cats going early, combining for the team’s first seven points and a 7-6 lead. Consecutive buckets by rookies Catie Mets and Tasha Rowland gave Linfield its biggest lead of the game so far, 13-9, before the Tigers roared back to claim a five-point advantage.
The Wildcat defense held Occidental scoreless over the final 5:55 of the opening period to take a two-point edge, 22-20, heading into the locker room.
A 3-point basket by Alex Christensen put Linfield up seven at the 16:42 point of the second half. The ‘Cats kept the Tigers at arm’s reach for a few minutes, but a trey from Crystal Goodwin with 12 ½ minutes to go gave Occidental its first lead of the half. The teams stayed tight, never gaining more than three points of separation, before the decisive run.
Neither team shot the ball well in the early season nonconference matchup, with the Wildcats hitting 29.6 percent of their attempts and the Tigers connecting on 29.2 percent of theirs. The teams posted identical averages from the charity stripe, each knocking down 10 of 17 free throws (58.8 percent).
Despite the 18 boards from Henson, Linfield lost the rebounding battle 46-44.
NEXT: Linfield travels 30 miles east to La Verne to take on the Leopards, also of the SCIAC, Sunday evening at 7 p.m.