In the second of their two games on the West Coast, the first time the squad has traveled to California for games since the 1999-00 campaign, the Cardinals escaped with a 52-49 victory over UC-Santa Cruz in a game played at Cal Lutheran Fri., Dec. 31 in the Best Western Classic. The victory upped Wesleyan's mark to 6-3 on the year but after a date at top-ranked and undefeated Amherst on Wed., Jan. 5 in the team's next outing, the Cards dropped to 6-4 as the Lord Jeffs took an 84-47 tilt. Amherst has won each of its 12 games this season by at least 13 points and by an average of 35.5 points.
Against UC-Santa Cruz, Wesleyan found the game coming down to the final three minutes despite building a 26-14 second-half lead. Wesleyan never trailed in the first period but led by no more than six points. A 7-0 start to the second half, triggered by a pair of baskets from Eileen Gaffney '12 (#30, main photo) and a three-pointer from Erin Gold '11 (#25, photo insert lower left) allowed the Cards to extends their 19-14 lead at intermission into the game's greatest advantage. The Banana Slugs came back to knot the count at 32-32 with 11:26 to go behind an 18-6 run. Still, Wesleyan regained the edge until a bucket with 8:27 to go spotted Santa Cruz its first lead at 39-38. The lead lasted three minutes before Gold scored six straight Cardinal points for a 48-43 Wesleyan lead with four minutes remaining. Gold ended the game with 13 points to pace the Cardinals and earned a spot on the all-tournament team while Gaffney had a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.
Six consecutive Slug points spotted Santa Cruz its last lead, 49-48, with 2:55 to play. With 1:54 left, Kendra Harris '13 converted a McKinley Tennant '11 inside pass into a go-ahead layup with just one second left on the 30-second clock, giving Wesleyan the lead for good, 50-49. Wesleyan added free throws by Amber Wessells '14 and Tennant in the final minute for a 52-49 lead. Santa Cruz had a final possession but a desperate three-point try from the left side was blocked by Wessels and time ran out, preserving the Cardinal win.
Sam LaCroce '12 also had a solid game with eight points and nine rebounds to support the cause.
At Amherst, Wesleyan held an 11-9 lead 7:04 into the first half before the Lord Jeffs rattled off 22 straight points for a 31-11 lead. Amherst finished the half on a 31-3 run for a 40-14 halftime margin. The second-half gap varied between 22 (45-23, 17:10 left) and 38 (82-44, 1:00 to go) points. Gaffney was high scorer for Wesleyan with nine points while KellyAnn Rooney '14 added eight.
The Cardinals head to Maine for a meeting with the Monks of St. Joseph's College Sun., Jan. 9 in their next outing.
(Photos courtesy of SteveMcLaughlinPhotography.com)