A day after defeating a good Whitworth College team by one point (68-67), the Tigers defeated Amherst, 73-68. The Jeffs came in ranked No. 4 in the NCAA Division III top 25 poll. At the time, Occidental was unranked; the Tigers today are No. 24. They open SCIAC play tonight against University of La Verne at Claremont-Mudd- Scripps. Tip off is 8 p.m. Occidental College, under longtime head coach Brian Newhall, always puts a good men’s basketball team on the court. This year’s version, however, could be even more special than usual if its Jan. 3 victory over Amherst College (Mass.) in the Oxy Classic is any indication. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita“Beating Whitworth and beating Amherst kind of confirmed for us that we will be contenders in the SCIAC,” Newhall said Tuesday. “It was a little bit of a confidence boost. More than anything, it ends preseason on a positive note and gives us some national exposure. It is a double-edged sword because it puts an X on your back, also.” There are several players for Occidental (9-1) who have paved the way for its early success, none more than forwards Sam Betty and Zach Phillips. Betty, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound junior from Bakersfield, is having by far his best season. Betty is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 21.1 and 7.7, respectively. Betty scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds against Amherst. “Two things happened,” Newhall said of Betty. “One, this is the first year he has not played football.” Newhall said Betty missed nearly a third of his first two basketball seasons because the football team has had long seasons after making the playoffs. “No. 2, he is injury free,” Newhall said. “He is a tremendous athlete who is learning to play basketball. This is his first year where his basketball skills are inching up to match his athletic talents.” Phillips, a 6-6, 210-pound senior out of Damien High School, is averaging 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds and, according to Newhall, has been somewhat of a mentor to Betty. “We have had tremendous senior leadership from Zach Phillips and guards Justin Zebb and Dylan Marvin,” Newhall said. “Those three have set the tone.” Despite its lofty record and national ranking, Occidental won’t have an easy time dethroning two-time defending SCIAC champion Pomona- Pitzer. And Newhall knows it. “Pomona-Pitzer has four all-league level players,” Newhall said. “They have a huge frontcourt and probably the best guard in the league in David Knowles.” Don’t look now, but the Pasadena City College men’s basketball team is making some noise. After losing the last 12 games of last season to finish 7-20, the Lancers began this season 1-7. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2213 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!