February 23, 2011 -– Last night Caltech’s men’s basketball team defeated Occidental College 46-45, earning the long-suffering Division III program its first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) win since 1985, and just its fourth conference victory in the past four decades.
Senior Ryan Elmquist scored the winning point, converting one of two free throws with three seconds left. Occidental missed a shot at the buzzer, and Caltech fans stormed the court in celebration.
The last time Caltech won a SCIAC game was January 24, 1985, when the Beavers eked out a one-point win against the University of La Verne. At the time, Michael Jordan was in the midst of his rookie year with the Chicago Bulls and basketball players were still wearing short-shorts.
Caltech’s next-most-recent conference victory came in 1980 against a 2-22 Pomona-Pitzer squad coached by Gregg Popovich, who has since won four NBA titles as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. The Beavers also won a SCIAC contest in 1971.
Caltech is no stranger to long losing streaks. The school’s baseball team has not won in-conference since 1988. Meanwhile, the women’s volleyball team has never won a conference match, a losing streak dating to 2000.
The plight of the men’s basketball team was also highlighted in the documentary Quantum Hoops, (which focused on the exploits of the 2005-06 squad), and covered in a 2008 Failure feature titled Seasons Change: But for Caltech, Losing is a Constant.
Sports aside, Caltech has long been considered one of the finest academic institutions in the world. Seventeen alumni are Nobel prize-winning scientists, and distinguished graduates also include Gordon E. Moore (co-founder of Intel), Charles Richter (inventor of the earthquake magnitude scale), David Ho (1996 Time Man of the Year), and Frank Capra (director of It’s a Wonderful Life). One might also recognize the work of alum Jack Schmitt, an Apollo 17 astronaut who walked on the moon and is credited with taking the most famous photograph in human history, the “Big Blue Marble” image of Earth.
Tonight’s victory was not entirely unexpected, as the team entered the game 4-20 (0-13), having beaten the likes of Eastern Nazarene and Wisconsin-Lutheran early in the season. After starting the 2010-11 campaign 0-5, the Beavers vanquished American Sports University, breaking a 44-game losing streak that dated to 2009. Caltech went on to win its next two games, the program’s first three-game winning streak in 15 seasons. The non-conference wins prompted guard Mike Paluchniak to predict that the SCIAC streak would come to an end sooner rather than later. “It’s not if we’re going to win. It’s how many we’re going to win,” he said, a comment that turned out to be a wee bit optimistic.
The Beavers came close to breaking the streak on several occasions in the past month, most notably an overtime loss to Redlands at home on January 12, a 70-68 loss at Whittier on January 29, and a 61-60 loss at home to La Verne on February 2.
In addition to the California Institute of Technology, Pomona-Pitzer, and the University of La Verne, the SCIAC also includes California Lutheran University, Whittier College, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the University of Redlands, and Occidental College.