SANTA CRUZ, CA -- The water got deeper on Saturday night as the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs faced the nationally 5th ranked Whitman College Missionaries. The Slugs fought back from an early 14 point deficit and surged to 63-58 but 20 points by Sarah Mackey and 15 points by Geena Giovannetti were not enough as a late 11-2 run by the Missionaries resulted in a 69-65 defeat for the Slugs.
The Slugs started the game flat. Maybe it was the wear and tear of a physical game the night before against Whitworth. Maybe it was the Missionary pressure defense. The Missionaries double teamed the Slugs post players and dared the Slugs to shoot from the outside. The Slugs tried to force the ball inside. The Missionaries forced numerous turnovers and raced off to an early 14-0 lead behind the fine play of Heather Jones who finished the night with 22 points.
This is a gritty Slug team. As assistant coach Susan Shapiro said after the game, "This is a Slug team that will play hard all night". The Slugs scratched and clawed their way back. Sarah Crane injected much needed energy into the Slugs at both ends of the floor. Giovannetti stopped the Missionary run with two free throws. Erin Joo powered home a layup and Sarah Mackey poured in seven quick points to cut the lead to 19-13. The pass of the game belonged to Taylor Willis as she drove to basket, drew a double team and hit Mackey for an easy two. The Missionaries responded extending the lead to 32-22 with 2 minutes to go. Once again the Slugs bounced back. Ryane Ortiz swished a long three. Giovannetti made two more free throws and Crane converted a difficult layup. The Slugs trailed only 33-29 at the half.
The Slugs continued their run in the second half. A layup and two free throw by Giovannetti and baskets by Mackey and Parrish gave the Slugs their first lead 37-35 with 15 minutes to play. The Slugs finally found consistent shooting from the outside. Three point shots by Ortiz and Giovannetti sandwiched a pair of three point beauties by Sarah Fitzgerald. Willis made an almost impossible layup and the Slugs built a 55-50 lead. Whitman rallied, but layups by Leah Parrish and Crane and more free throws by Giovannetti kept the Missionaries at bay. The Slugs led 63-58 with 5 minutes to play. The final run belonged to the Whitman. The Missionaries outscored the Slugs 11-2 down the stretch. A pull up jumper by Giovannetti cut the lead to 67-65. Whitman escaped with the victory, when two slug 3 point shots fell short in the closing seconds.
Close losses are tough to take but could be a turning point for the Slugs. The Slugs forced the nationally rank Whitman Missionaries to play their very best in order to win by a narrow margin. The Slugs continue the season next weekend in Southern California with games again Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont Mudd Scripts.