Loyola Marymount hosts 18th Thanksgiving Classic, Princeton wins tournament
Cheyanne Wallace (Loyola Marymount)
Taelor Ross (Seattle)
Annie Tarakchian (Princeton)
Amanda Berntsen (Princeton)
Michelle Miller (Princeton) – Most Valuable Player
LOS ANGELES – For many women’s basketball teams, the Thanksgiving holiday period usually involves participation in a multi-day tournament, hopefully in a locale with mild temperatures. Programs that host tournaments in ideal locations, such as Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, do not have a hard time attracting participants from around the country to play a few games in Southern California.
“I like hosting a Thanksgiving tournament. A lot of people love coming to L.A. for the holidays,” said LMU head coach Charity Elliot about her program’s 18th annual competition. “We get teams signed up and committed pretty early.”
This year’s two-day LMU Thanksgiving Classic featured Ivy League-power Princeton, Seattle University of the Western Athletic Conference and Big West member University of California at Irvine. Previous winners of the tournament include North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Georgia, Texas A&M, Xavier, Cleveland State, Kansas, North Carolina as well as LMU. The home team Lions have won the tournament title six times.
Princeton is a regular participant in tournaments on the West Coast, giving players from California a chance to play in front of family and friends and bond with local Princeton alumni while getting some early season road trip experience. This year marked the first time the Tigers appeared in LMU’s tournament.
For teams from afar that participate in the LMU tournament, the traveling entourage routinely includes parents and siblings who make the trek as a family vacation to spend time in Los Angeles as tourists and watch games . In addition, this year the Princeton Club of Southern California had a sizable contingent in the audience, complete with several banners, homemade signs and foam fingers.
“It’s neat having them here,” said Elliot of the Tiger faithful, “they brought some excitement to the tournament obviously, with their fan support.”
Princeton (5-1) won this year’s tournament, beating Seattle 85-48 in the championship game. LMU defeated UC Irvine 95-50 in the consolation game.
Senior Leadership Key for Princeton
Led by a trio of seniors, Princeton delivered a rout that began early in the contest. The Tigers outscored the Redhawks 20-8 in the first quarter and 25-12 in the second period for a 45-20 lead at the half. The Tigers never trailed and there were no ties during the matchup.
For Princeton senior guard Michelle Miller from Pasadena, the game came with a celebration as the product of Pasadena Polytechnic scored her 1,000th career point. She finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. After the game, she was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“You can’t script that story any better for her to get the thousandth point here in L.A.,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart about the timing of Miller’s accomplishment.
Senior guard Amanda Berntsen also contributed double figures with 21 points and Annie Tarakchian from nearby West Hills (Chaminade College Prep) added 17 points plus nine rebounds. Senior forward Alex Wheatley poured in 10 points plus five rebounds.
It was the second trip to Los Angeles during the November holiday for the seniors.
“Three years ago we did it for our L.A. seniors at the time,” said Banghart, “and these guys were freshmen.” The team will also be travelling to Ohio during the Christmas holiday period to face Dayton and Ohio State so two other players will have a chance to be on the court in front of their loved ones.
While Princeton had no trouble putting away teams in the tournament, Banghart feels that her team is still “a work in progress.”
“We’re still kind of figuring out that six, seven, eight and nine group and what they can provide on a consistent basis. If we look at our progress week to week, I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the level of talent that we have, the firepower we have, or the size. They are remarkably coachable so I’ll do my best to get them where they need to be.”
Taelor Ross led Seattle with 18 points and five rebounds. The Redhawks return to Washington to face Denver on Thursday, Dec. 3. The Tigers are back in action at home in New Jersey on Sunday, Dec. 6 against the University of Michigan. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Loyola Marymount’s Win Propelled By Youth
While seniors fueled Princeton’s victory, LMU’s success was largely due to the efforts of young players. Freshman Cheyanne Wallace had a breakout performance with a career-high 23 points plus six rebounds and four blocks. Senior guard/forward Sophie Taylor was also in fine form with a double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds. Senior guard Deanna Johnson added 11 points off the bench. The win in the consolation game came after LMU lost 78-69 to Seattle on Friday.
“We didn’t feel we played like we wanted to play last night,” said Ellio.t “And really it’s kind of been that way all year, It’s a building process, we’re very young, I started three freshmen today so we’ve got a long way to go. But it was really nice for us to not only get ahead but to keep the lead and extend.”
LMU was on fire early and pulled away, outscoring UC Irvine,14-8, in the first quarter. The Anteaters clawed their way back into the game in the second quarter, outscoring the Lions 22-21, getting within two points in the last two minutes of the half. LMU went into the locker room with a 35-30 lead.
In the second half, the Lions unleashed an offensive onslaught outscoring the Anteaters 60-20.
Even with the win Elliot said “we’re trying to learn how to win and how hard it is to win, but I love our team.”
Like Banghart, she expressed that her team is a work in progress.
“It’s always tough to kind of start out worse than you were hoping and expecting, but we just want to keep making progress and building….I’m really, really proud of the progress we made from yesterday to today. Now we just can’t go backwards.”
UC Irvine had just one player in double figures, senior guard Raelyn Cheung-Sutton (13 points, five assists). The Anteaters return home for a four-game homestand starting with Northern Arizona on Friday, Dec. 4.
LMU begins a three-game road slate that includes UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Missouri.