Whitney Best had a potential game-tying shot rim out at the final buzzer, ending a valiant rally as The Master’s College Mustangs came up just short in a 56-54 loss to No. 4 Westmont on Tuesday evening in Santa Barbara.
The loss to the GSAC-leading Warriors extended the Mustangs’ losing streak to a season-high four games, leaving them 1-6 in the conference and 8-11 overall.
Best’s miss was the concluding action on a night when the Mustangs trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 with as many minutes left to play in the contest before a spirited rally brought them all the way back.
The comeback started with Best whose three-point play with 15:04 remaining ignited a 20-5 run in a 5:26 span that drew the Mustangs even at 48 on a Lena Rivera jumper. In between, the Mustangs received contributions from nearly everyone but the highlights came from long range where Millie Rivera poured in a pair of three-pointers and Ella Joines added another.
Following Lena Rivera’s game-tying jumper with 9:42 remaining, the Warriors regained the lead on their next possession, starting a 6-0 spurt that put them ahead to stay. It was sparked by a defense that kept the Mustangs off the board for over five minutes.
The Mustangs returned the defensive favor almost immediately, keeping the Warriors scoreless during a 4:40 span. That enabled the Mustangs to make one last rush which almost resulted in an upset. When the Mustangs snapped their drought on a Lena Rivera charity toss at the 4:09 mark, they found themselves down only five points, 54-49. They drew ever closer on a Kristen Huff jumper with 3:26 left and when Best canned a jumper with 2:08 showing on the clock, the Mustangs had pulled within one point.
That deficit grew to three points (56-53) on a pair of Aubrey Lincoln free throws at the 1:20 mark and stayed there until Lena Rivera converted one of two free throws with 12 seconds left. Rivera was on the line after getting fouled following Huff’s offensive rebound from a potential tying three-point miss by Kimmy Iverson.
Desperate to regain possession, the Mustangs fouled and got what they wanted when Westmont’s Lisa Peterson missed a free throw. Coming out of a timeout, the ball wound up in Best’s hands but her last-second shot just missed from sending the teams to overtime.
Finding it hard to find the range the entire evening, the Mustangs shot at a 37% clip in the second half, a vast improvement from a paltry 20% (6-30) showing over the opening 20 minutes.
It was that kind of shooting combined with Westmont’s 56% accuracy in the first half that put the Mustangs in a hole from which they were never really able to recover.
The Warriors started quickly, surging to an 11-3 lead in the game’s first five minutes. Missing 15 of their first 18 shots, the Mustangs managed just seven points halfway through the opening period and found themselves trailing by double digits on a couple of occasions.
One of those came at 18-8 with just over nine minutes left in the first half. However, a trifecta from Joines and two Zoe Scott free throws sliced the deficit in half in less than a minute.
But, it didn’t take the Warriors long to regain control and push the advantage back in to double digits. Limiting the Mustangs to only two points for nearly seven minutes, the Warriors increased their lead to 28-15 on the strength of a 10-2 run.
The lead eventually reached a half-high 16 points (33-17) before the Warriors settled for a 35-20 lead at the break.
Once again, Lena Rivera was all over the place, recording her fifth double-double of the campaign with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Her four steals tied her for game-high honors with teammate Scott. Best was the only other Mustang in double figures, matching Rivera’s total.
Seeking to put an end to their losing skein, the Mustangs welcome Pt. Loma Nazarene to Bross Gym on Saturday evening. Tip-off is slated for 5:30 p.m.