Westmont Magazine The Basketball Elite
Behind the play of All-American Chris Clark, the men’s basketball team advanced to the fifth Elite Eight in Westmont history at the 2002 NAIA National Tournament in March.
Despite entering their 13th NAIA National Tournament as an at-large team, the 2001-02 Westmont men’s basketball team felt optimistic about their chances in the playoffs. A 13-game mid-season winning streak, a regular-season sweep of arch rival and nationally ranked Asuza Pacific and a second place finish in the tough GSAC all pointed toward a good showing for the Warriors in Kansas City.
The team knew, however, that they needed to be ready to play right away, as they faced No. 7 Southern Polytechnic in the first round. Chris Clark and Mitch Pierce led the way for Westmont, scoring a combined 46 points to advance to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in school history.
The second round brought an even stiffer challenge, as Westmont matched up against Mountain State University, one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. Precision and patience won out over athleticism, as the Warriors played brilliantly in a nationally televised game to defeat the Cougars and hold them an astonishing 40 points below their scoring average. After leading at halftime by only 9, Westmont went on a decisive 27-8 run over Mountain State, beginning with a three-pointer by senior Joe Ortiz and finishing with a slam dunk by junior Will Gulley.
“We knew we were overmatched at every position,” junior point guard Adrian Phillips said. “We knew this would have to be a collaborative effort.”
The blowout victory turned heads across the nation and Westmont, with its savvy Princeton offense, became the unofficial home team of the tournament and the fans in Kansas City.
In the Elite Eight, Westmont’s fifth in school history, the Warriors faced Barat College, and tried to pull off their third upset in four days. After trailing 37-34 at halftime, Westmont put together a strong run to take a 51-40 lead. From that point, the game was back and forth, with Barat eventually pulling out a 91-79 victory. Westmont ended their season 22-10.
Junior Clark was named to the NAIA All-American second team, just the seventh player in Westmont’s history to earn NAIA All-American honors. He led the GSAC in scoring and is ninth all-time at Westmont for his 600 points this year. Fellow junior Pierce was named to the NAIA honorable mention All-American team and was second on the team in scoring and first in rebounds. Both were named to the all-GSAC first team.