COOS BAY — With No. 3 ranked Lane Community College in town on Wednesday night, the Southwestern Oregon Community College women’s basketball team was up for the challenge. Leading by as many as 16 points in the game, it was the Lakers holding on to record a 71-69 upset over the Titans.
“I think we were just hungry for a win. That’s basically it. We haven’t been on the best streak so far and everyone’s mindset before the game was we’re all just hungry. That’s all I can say,” said SWOCC’s Kealani Neves, who was dominant all night and finished with 35 points.
SWOCC and Lane have been on completely opposite journeys throughout the league season. The Lakers started off 2-7 in league play while the Titans were 7-2 in that same stretch. SWOCC recorded a win last Saturday at Clark before a game against the perennially talented Titans.
“This is one of those teams that you’re trying to beat. I mean, it’s a huge win,” said SWOCC head coach Jeff Johnson. “I told the ladies, dare to be great. Nobody outside our locker room thought we could win tonight. We kept pushing them. Let’s dare to be great for one night. Take it one night at a time.”
The Lakers started off slow as the Titans opened up a 6-0 lead to start the game. That was Lane’s biggest lead of the contest. After working back into the contest, the Lakers trailed 10-8 before the team went nuclear.
In a span of just 2:53 of game time SWOCC went six-of-six from the field and made two free throws as the team put together a 17-0 run that gave the Lakers a 25-10 advantage.
“Versus Lane last time it was a game of runs. They went on a run, we went on a run, they went on a bigger run,” said Neves. In the first meeting of the season Lane defeated SWOCC 91-67. “So we just got them back.”
Neves was everywhere in that stretch scoring nine of the team’s points. In addition to her high-scoring night, she also had five steals, four assists and four rebounds.
“She can get to the rim on you, she can finish with contact, she has a great stop, turnaround midrange jumper. If you don’t guard the three I mean, she was three-of-six tonight again,” said Johnson of his star guard.
“What can you say about her? People saw she was hot, so we said alright, let’s keep feeding her the ball. That’s what high IQ basketball players do. They realize she was hot, alright, let’s give it to her.”
Despite the early SWOCC lead, a Lane comeback seemed inevitable. The teams each scored 14 points in the second quarter and the Titans began to chip away throughout the third quarter, where they outscored SWOCC 18-11.
Leading the way for Lane was Kalina Rojas. Rojas, who played all 40 minutes, is the only player in the NWAC in the top-six for both points (17.5 per game) and rebounds (12.4). She finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
A 3-pointer from Lane’s Megan Fossen made it a 58-57 SWOCC advantage with 5:35 left in the game. Before the Titans could string together another basket, the Lakers rattled off an 8-0 run to regain control. It was Neves again coming up big including two steals in that stretch that led to a pair of fast-break lay-ups.
“It was just intensity. Everything that happened, everything that went in a positive direction for us, we just hyped it up even more and the whole team’s intensity just stepped up,” she said.
“We just knew that it was going to be competitive. Past games we’ve known that we can score, we have talented players. But what we’ve really been working on for so long now is defense.”
The defense continued to come up big late as the Lakers forced four turnovers in the final minutes of play. The Titans had 15 turnovers on the night.
SWOCC had essential baskets from a handful of players in the fourth quarter. Kayla Navy had back-to-back lay-ups to start the quarter and Jill Thalman a pair of buckets late to grow the lead. Jasey Ramelow finished with nine points for the Lakers while Thalman ended with eight and Navy had five.
The Lakers had a 70-62 lead with a minute to play before the Titans capitalized on turnovers and errors to make it 70-69 with six seconds to play. Neves split a pair of free throws and the Titans looked to have a chance late. But instead, Neves deflected the inbound pass and Lane forced a long 3 that was off.
With five games left in the regular season, the Lakers head to Clackamas on Saturday before taking on Linn-Benton on the road next Wednesday. SWOCC is back home against Portland, for the final home game of the season, on Saturday Feb. 22.
“I don’t know if we’re officially out of the playoffs but we’ve got to win out to have a chance,” said Johnson. “We get some help, maybe we can get in there.
“Might as well try and mess it up for everyone else.”