College of the Canyons women’s basketball had its hands full in Friday’s non-conference matchup with the visiting Palomar Comets.
Palomar had the better record, more size and stronger numbers but COC held on with some solid rebounding and resilience to knock off the Comets, 77-71.
The Comets (12-3) refused to go away despite being down double digits at one point in the third quarter. However, late in the game, Canyons (7-6) had an answer for nearly every Palomar sign of life. COC was able to stay out in front and never trailed after retaking the lead in the third quarter.
The Cougars were led by freshmen Jade Sims and Aaliyah Garcia, who both added 21 points on the night. Garcia, a two-time Foothill League MVP, was proud of her team’s effort and balanced attack in the stunning win.
“It’s a huge confidence boost. Hopefully we can keep it rolling,” Garcia said. “It’s been maybe one or two players scoring in other games, so we know if we wanted to win, we needed four or five scorers. That’s what was important.”
Four Cougars scored in double figures, not including freshman Alexia Ruelas, who matched Garcia with a trio of 3-point bombs.
Canyons had a plethora of 3-point shooters to worry about on the Palomar side but the night belonged to sharpshooter Nevaeh Mageo, who scorched the Cougars in the first half with five 3-pointers.
“First of all, (Mageo) was hot,” said COC coach John Wissmath. “We had to slow her down right away and that’s the first thing we talked about as soon as we walked into our room. She was lights-out and we had to put pressure on her.”
Wissmath made it a mission to focus on Mageo in the second half. The Cougars were able to hold the shooter to a pair of threes for the rest of the game. Mageo finished with 21 points and added five rebounds.
Comets guard Angelina De Leon tied the score, 37-37, with a 3-point buzzer beater that sent Palomar into the halftime break with some energy. However, Garcia responded immediately in the third quarter, and went on a solo 7-0 run to help push her team out in front for the remainder of the game.
“Aaliyah was lights-out and she’s been lights-out for us,” Wissmath said. “Her and Jade played well and both scored 21. She can just control the floor and that helps us tremendously. That was a big pickup, having someone, local talent, come here and do a great job for us.”
De Leon became a problem late in the game as the guard found several shots in the middle of COC’s 3-2 zone defense. The Comet guard was also in a great spot to track down missed shots and snagged five of her six offensive rebounds in the second half. De Leon finished with 14 points.
Palomar’s Faith Brinkman, a Master’s University bounceback, and Dayvis Key were also a problem on the boards. The two were limited offensively, but added a combined 19 rebounds for the Comets.
With less than 15 seconds left on the clock, COC was in control but put the finishing touches on Palomar. Cougars forward Amiya Robinson snagged a missed free throw and put up just her second bucket of the night to ice the game with a six-point lead. Robinson finished with 11 points and six rebounds. She had missed some time earlier in the season but is becoming more and more impactful for Wissmath.
Despite Canyons being undersized, the team lost the rebounding battle by just four boards.
“We’ve got to get better defensively on the rebounds but I was proud of them,” Wissmath said. “We still did a pretty good job. They’d beat us by four overall rebounds and that was our biggest focus. We struggle in games because we’re not rebounding very well. I always feel that, with this team, if we can rebound better, we can win a lot more games.”
Sims led the team in rebounds with nine and matched Garcia in assists with three. Freshman forward Vanessa Zavala was also crucial in the win as she gave the Cougars life all over the floor. The Hart alumna added 11 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks in the win.
Palomar had several 3-point specialists on its roster as four Comets drilled multiple shots from the perimeter. The team had size to do damage in the paint but didn’t make a 2-point field goal until late in the second quarter. The Comets went cold late and went 1-for-10 in the fourth quarter from distance to close out the game.
Canyons is rostered by six freshmen to just two sophomores. It’s another year of a small numbers lineup for Wissmath but so far the second-year coach has been impressed with his young team’s basketball IQ.
“We do have some good IQ on the team,” Wissmath said. “The two kids from Canyon, and they’re well coached at Canyon High School. That helps us out a lot, no doubt. And Zavala coming from Hart, who’s coached well. We’ve got Alexis, who’s a little speedster from Arleta. She moves, hustles and gets after it and she is just a dynamite kid.”
COC has now won three of its last four games after some rough stretches earlier in the season.
“We just all had to play together,” Garcia said. “We’ve had a rough patch so we knew we had to come out strong against a tough team. We knew all we had to do was play together and we could come out with a win.”
The win marks a huge confidence boost for Canyons at just the right time. COC will have one more non-conference matchup before heading into Western State Conference play.
The Cougars will retake the floor on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Cypress College.
“We don’t play again until the fourth so we’ve got a little bit of time for this win to resonate,” Wissmath said. “But we have to move on and continue to get ready for the next game. We’ve got to try and stay at that pace and now that we know that we can play with some of the best.
“I believe that these girls will have that mindset and that we gotta hustle and we have to work up a heck of a sweat. Every game we cannot let up, where you know, there’s no getting tired on our team. Because there’s not many bodies on the bench.”