Sophomore forward Collin Host gets fouled as he attempts a lay-up over a Wolverine player. (Photo by Niko LaBarbera)
In front of a chaotic crowd in Saddleback College’s Gymnausium on Saturday night, the Gauchos men’s basketball team defeated the highly ranked San Bernardino Valley College Wolverines handily, 53-32. The win places the Gauchos in the California Community College Athletic Association State Tournament for the first time since the 2011.
Coming into the game, the Gauchos and Wolverines had very similar records, 30-2 and 31-2 respectively and each had beaten each other during the regular season. In fact, Saddleback was the only team to defeat the Wolverines and they did it twice.
The game began with SBVC getting the first basket, but the Gauchos quickly responded with a three-pointer. The game remained extremely close until the first stoppage of play when the score was 8-7. From then on, Saddleback played like a team destined for greatness. The Gauchos went on an 18-2 scoring run with help coming primarily from sophomores Dusty Baker, Andrew Bournes and Conor Clifford and freshman Maleke Haynes.
“[Jalen Hall] was injured tonight, so I had to put more on my shoulders in handling the ball duties,” Haynes said.
“Coaches gave us confidence and we played tough defense tonight,” Baker said. “We come prepared every time we play and we took care of the ball tonight.”
When the Gauchos offensive barrage was finally finished and the dust settled, Saddleback was leading 28-14 at halftime. The Wolverines did have a chance to cut into the lead near the end of the half, but they were unable to make four easy free throws.
Saddleback defeated SanBernardino Valley College, 52-32 to advance to the State Tournament. (Photo by Niko LaBarbera)
As the second half started, SBVC got the first points and just like in the beginning the game, the Gauchos countered with a big three-pointer. The Wolverines were able to make it interesting again after this, going on an 8-0 run and making the score 33-24. This was the the closest SBVC got to the Gauchos in the second half. For the rest the game Saddleback played lockdown defense, fed the ball inside to their centers Clifford and sophomore Kyle Hoag and got big three-point baskets from Bournes and Baker. When all was set and done, the Gauchos celebrated a 53-32 victory.
“We tried to get [the ball] into the big guys and when they started doubling us every time, we just kicked it out and got open looks,” sophomore forward Collin Host said.
Saddleback head coach Andy Ground was very dissatisfied with his team’s defensive performance in the previous game, but had different thoughts about the way the team played on Saturday.
“I thought the defense was the reason we won the game. We shut down what they wanted to do, our guys were in the paint and we took away all their drives,” Ground said. “[The players] executed the game plan to a tee and that’s why we came out on top.”
Freshman forward Josh Mishler was surprised that his team played as good as they did in the second half and thought the game was going to be tighter in the end.
“I was surprised in the second half how well we played against this team. I was expecting it to be a grind it out game to the finish,” Mishler said.
Even former NBA player Reggie Theus, who was in attendance, gave his thoughts on how both teams played.
“It was a fun game to watch especially in the first half. I thought both teams really played hard. It was a solid game all the way around,” Theus said.
The Gauchos will now travel to Cerritos College to play in the “Final Four.” Their first opponent will be the Canada College Colts from Redwood City, California. The Colts are 24-6 on the season. The game will be on Friday, Mar. 13 at 7 p.m.