COSTA MESA — Sometimes, the one thing you haven't tried, the one thing that is least likely to work, can be the magic bullet.
The Orange Coast College women's basketball team came up one shot shy of completing a second-half comeback that was as unlikely as it was astounding Saturday night.
But in the end, Coach Mike Thornton and his Pirates were left wondering if a 66-65 loss to College of the Canyons in the semifinals of the Erin Tomlinson Coast Christmas Classic at OCC may at least serve as a reset button on a mediocre season to this point.
OCC, which Thornton said played about as poorly as it could in all facets of the game for the first 20 minutes, then saw things get worse early after intermission. OCC trailed, 60-38, with 11:48 left to a team known for running up the score.
It was then that Thornton, against his better judgment and, quite frankly having tried almost everything else, finally challenged his players to deploy full-court, man-to-man pressure.
"We really got into them at halftime and we went to a defense that we didn't think we could play against a quick, athletic team like [Canyons]," Thornton said. "And then all of a sudden, we did a good job and I was really, really surprised that they didn't handle it as well as they could have.
"Canyons probably leads the state in scoring every year and their goal is to basically get 100 points a game. The common thought is, if you press them, you're in trouble. But at that point, we were reaching to try to get something to turn it around. And the kids responded and played hard."
Did they ever.
OCC (6-7) held the Cougars (9-4) without a field goal for more than 10 minutes, and rolled off a 27-4 run that gave the Pirates a 65-64 advantage with 2:44 left.
But after a steal and a missed layup by OCC sophomore Jordyn Terukina, who led the hosts with four steals, Canyons guard Amanda Ajdari got behind the defense, caught an over-the-top pass and scored an uncontested layup to regain the lead with 1:43 left.
OCC missed shots on its next two possessions, but got the ball back and called timeout with 20 seconds left.
All five OCC players handled the ball on the ensuing possession, which ended with the ball in the hands of Ashley Engeln, who had a team-best 19 points. The 5-foot-7 sophomore squared up and launched a three-point attempt from a few feet beyond the top of the key with four ticks remaining. But Casey Scheller, a 5-9 freshman, blocked the shot and Canyons collected the rebound as time expired.
Engeln had made all five of OCC's three-pointers (her teammates were zero for 13 from beyond the arc), but a dramatic game-winner was not meant to be.
Freshmen Jenna Arnett (16 points and nine rebounds), Nisma Ali (eight points and eight boards) and Michelle Angel (eight points, five assists and three steals), were also key to an OCC comeback, during which Cougars made just four of 10 foul shots.
OCC bested the Cougars in rebounds (42-40), turnovers committed (14 to 18) and assists (19-14), but Canyons shot 45.6% from the field, including 58.6% in the first half (17 of 29).
"There were a lot of positives," said Thornton, who was not sure whether the rally could be a springboard toward more consistent effort in the future. "I felt like we were going to pull off a miracle out there."
Erin Tomlinson Coast
Canyons 66, Orange Coast 65
COC – Davis 21, Chapman 2, Sahagun 14, Weaver 10, Ajdari 10, Johnson 4, Young 3, Smith 2.
3-pt. goals – Weaver 3, Ajdari 1, Young 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
OCC – Arnett 16, Ali 8, Engeln 19, Angel 8, Maldonado 4, Bartel 7, Terukina 3.
3-pt. goals – Engeln 5.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – 42-27, COC.