By Peter Gibbs
All season long, the Tigers’ identity was to rely on defense and rebounding. In the third round of the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs, they lost that identity while also struggling to score.
The 11-seed Riverside City College women’s basketball team fell to the 3-seed Mt. San Antonio College Mounties 66-54 in a game that saw RCC get outrebounded 48-41.
Riverside was inexperienced coming into the playoffs, starting four freshmen against a tough Mt. SAC squad that had plenty of reps in the postseason.
“I’m proud of the way they played and how far they came,” head coach Alicia Berber said. “What went wrong is they’re freshmen, they’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Mt. SAC got numerous offensive boards and open looks in the first half which led to an early lead. Meanwhile, the Tigers failed to make a single shot in the first quarter, scoring all their points from free throws.
The second quarter proved to be the difference, with Riverside being held to only four points.
“We came out flat, the pressure was a lot more than we expected,” freshman guard Ashley Smith said. “Maybe we weren’t prepared all the way, but once we got it going it was too little too late.”
Two of the Tigers playoff stars, freshman guard Makayla Roberts and freshman guard N’Dya Parks, struggled to find a rhythm.
“I was being double-teamed and face-guarded,” Parks said. “I’m one of our top offensive players. It was hard to get me the ball.”
Parks was unable to score until the second half, putting Riverside in a hole early.
After leading the team with 14 points in the second round, Roberts was held scoreless for the entire game.
On defense, there were multiple instances where the team seemed confused.
“We had a lot of miscommunications with switching and hedging,” Parks said. “In transition you pick up who’s closest to you, which creates mismatches. That played into their hands.”
The Tigers had used a full court press to force turnovers and score in transition. That scheme wasn’t used until the second half which helped cut the lead in half and give the team hope.
“We didn’t have the bodies to keep up with a physical team like this,” Berber said. “When we did press, we got into foul trouble and were late on plays.”
Smith sparked the rally by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“In the first half, I didn’t work to get myself open,” she said. “When I did, it was too late in the fourth.”
Ultimately the comeback fell short, ending a season where the Tigers recorded 10 more wins than last year.
Riverside finishes the season with a record of 21-10 but can expect to improve even more with multiple starters returning next season.
“They have to get in the gym and practice,” Berber said. “We were a game away from being in the Elite 8. Now we keep building on it.”