Occidental forward Caleb Yellin-Flaherty (senior) led the Occidental men’s basketball team to an 87–73 win over Pomona-Pitzer Jan. 25. The game was a rematch of last year’s SCIAC championships where Occidental fell 68–45. According to Yellin-Flaherty, he finished the night with 30 points on 11–15 shooting, his best scoring performance in a win in his college career.
Finishing the night only one point shy of his career high, Yellin-Flaherty said his below average shooting against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps earlier in the week reminded him to ease into the night and let his shots come more naturally in the flow of the game.
“I’ve had a couple games where I kind of forced things,” Yellin-Flaherty said. “Being a senior, there are times when you take it upon yourself to do a little too much, but this was a game where I let the game come to me.”
Guard and fellow captain Jacob Adler (junior) said Yellin-Flaherty’s versatility as an all-around player this season has made stopping him on defense next to impossible.
“When you have a guy like that, he can pop, roll, dive. You’re not quite sure what he’s going to do,” Adler said. “He can also shot-fake, go off the bounce for a three; when he’s making that shot, he’s pretty much unguardable.”
After graduating all-conference seniors Austin DeWitz ’19 and Zach Baines ’19 last year, Yellin-Flaherty said this year’s team thrives on distributing the ball evenly and making opposing teams guess where the next basket will come from.
“I feel like from one through at least our top seven, everyone can make a play,” Yellin-Flaherty said. “Everyone is contributing. As long as we’re winning, we don’t care who’s putting the ball in the bucket.”
Yellin-Flaherty leads the conference with 7.1 rebounds per game and is the fifth-highest scorer in SCIAC with 16.9 points per game. Adler said Yellin-Flaherty’s improvement from last year is emblematic of his commitment to avoid complacency.
“It’s a testament to his work ethic, his ability to keep finding ways to get better,” Adler said. “I think after last year, a lot of players might have been content to be a starter on a team that lost in the SCIAC championship, but he really took it upon himself to expand those parts of his game, and it’s paid off this year.”
Yellin-Flaherty said he is looking forward to making the most of his last six games as the final season of his basketball journey comes to a close.
“My dad was always a basketball fan. I would play one-on-one against my older brothers, when I was 5, 6 years old,” Yellin-Flaherty said. “It’s been a great ride, and I want to finish it off in the best way possible.”
Yellin-Flaherty said the relationships he built during his time as a player are the best thing basketball has brought him.
“Obviously you love the competition, the emotion. Whenever you get to play in those big games, those are memories you’ll have forever,” Yellin-Flaherty said. “But it’s 100 percent got to be the relationships that you make with your teammates. It’s just great being able to play the sport that you love with a lot of other guys who love it too.”
Occidental’s next home game is Feb. 8 against California Lutheran University.
Guard Maylene Hughes (first year) of Occidental’s women’s basketball scored a career-high 41 points in a 98–77 loss to La Verne Jan. 15 — the highest score by an Occidental player since 2013, according to Oxy Athletics. She is currently tied for fourth in points per game in SCIAC, averaging 15.1.
Hughes said she was just doing her part to help Occidental win.
“I’ve never really been a player to keep track of my score, and it didn’t really matter to me. It never has,” Hughes said. “In the past I’ve never been a scorer, I’ve just always known how to score, and I know scoring will help contribute to the team, so that’s what I want to do. I just care about my teammates and getting the win.”
When a teammate went down with an injury mid-game, Hughes said an unsavory comment from a La Verne fan propelled her to push even harder.
“That really made me want to get some buckets,” Hughes said. “It really made me upset. I had an exchange with that fan during the game, and after the game we had to be escorted out by security.”
As a track athlete in the spring, Hughes said she used her speed to fight through La Verne’s press and get to the hoop.
“On defense they were pressing, and it was kind of easy for me to get through their press,” Hughes said. “They were smaller, and I’m small but I’m also fast, so whenever I have someone matched up that’s the same height as me, I’m confident I can take them.”
While her speed is essential, Hughes said the intellectual part of her game is just as important as the physical.
“The mental game is everything,” Hughes said. “If your mind’s not there then you’re not going to play well. I always remind myself, every game, to never give up. That’s what helps motivate me and helps drive me. It pushes me to do the best that I can and be the best that I can be.”
According to Hughes, the bonds she has formed with her fellow teammates will last long after her time at Occidental.
“Coming here, I didn’t really know anyone,” Hughes said. “My [teammates] are my best friends here, they’re the only people I like to hang out with. I know we’ll always be friends outside of basketball.”
In terms of her motivation, Hughes said her mother has been her biggest supporter and inspiration in her life.
“Whether it’s basketball or academics, she’s always pushed me,” Hughes said. “She always made sure I had opportunities; it didn’t really matter how we were financially, she’d always find a way. Whether I had a bad game or a bad day, she’d always inspire me and uplift me and remind me why I do this.”
Occidental’s next home game is Feb. 5 against University of Redlands.