Saddleback guard Devonte Klines (No. 24, white jersey) drives towards the basket, as players look on, against MiraCosta College in Saturday’s playoff game. Klines had 17 points, which led the Gauchos for the night. (Nick Nenad/Lariat)
The No.1 seeded Saddleback College basketball team continue on their quest for a second consecutive state championship by defeating MiraCosta College, 79-54 on Saturday. The Gauchos came into the game as the Orange Empire Conference champions, after going undefeated in conference play, holding a 27-1 overall record.
In front of a packed house at Saddleback, that saw a mixture of loud MiraCosta fans and the usual hometown followers, the Gauchos never lost the lead after going up 4-2 very early in the game. Although never regaining the lead, the MiraCosta faithful were into the game the entire time and some of the Saddleback players noticed the rowdiness of the opposing crowd.
“I try to cancel that out, I didn’t really hear [the fans],” Saddleback guard TJ Shorts said. “I think they might have been calling my name out a little bit … that doesn’t really affect me.”
The Gauchos grabbed a quick lead, going up, 10-4 in just less than five minutes into the game. The Spartans defense was on top of its game though and they eventually almost tied the score with 9:42 remaining in the first half, the score being 15-13.
From that point, Saddleback gradually increased their lead and played better defense. Going into halftime, the Gauchos had a 34-20 lead.
MiraCosta’s first half defensive strategy was to disallow Saddleback’s big men to get into the paint. They executed this strategy successfully, causing the Gauchos to shoot more three-point shots then they normally do.
“The change of their defense bothered us a little bit and we were settling for [three-point shots],” said Saddleback head coach Andy Ground. “It was out of the ordinary, we took 12 [three-pointers] in the first half and you usually want to shot about four or five.”
When the second half started, the Gauchos and Spartans each went on small scoring runs for around eight minutes. The score was 47-35, with 12:05 left in the game, MiraCosta having only cut Saddleback’s halftime lead by two points.
One of the big reasons for the Spartans inability to mount a comeback was Saddleback’s game plan to stop MiraCosta’s top scorer, Buddha Boyd, who was averaging over 22 points-per-game. The Gauchos’ guards Devonte Klines and Charles Trotter had the responsibility of doing so and when the game was over, Boyd only had 15 points.
“Devonte Klines and Charles Trotter did a great job taking turns on him, wearing him down, denying him the ball,” Ground said. “That was our game plan defensively.”
After the midway point of the second half, Saddleback took over control of the game and never looked back. The Gauchos moved their lead up to 25 points at one point and they cruised to victory, 79-54.
Saddleback pounded the paint in the second half—something the coaching staff stresses every game and stressed at halftime. This was a big reason for the solid second half of play from the Gauchos.
“We definitely started out shaky, we weren’t rebounding the ball and we were taking a lot of [three-pointers],” Shorts said. [Coach Ground] told us he wanted us to pound it in the paint when the second half [started] and that’s exactly what we did.”
Multiple Gauchos contributed to the win in a big way. Klines led Saddleback in scoring with 17 points and he contributed five rebounds and four assists. Forward Breaon Brady had a double double, gaining 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Shorts and guard Josh Mishler led the team in assists, five and had 12 points and 11 points respectively. Guard Maurice Jones contributed 13 points and got seven rebounds.
Ground believes his team’s depth, which he says goes 12 players deep, will be a key part to their continuing playoff run. In Saturday’s contest, nine players got solid playing time and five players were in double digits in the point category.
“That’s helped us all year long and that’s a goal of ours every year, to have ten guys that can play,”Ground said. “I’ll be honest with you, we probably got more guys that can play, but it’s too hard to play them in a game.”
Saddleback will now defend home court against Bakersfield College (23-5). BC beat Moorpark College in their first playoff game. The Gauchos have not played BC this season.
“We just know that they’re a good team, they live in the paint and they’re probably gonna be the best team we’ve faced this year,” said Saddleback forward Brandon Fagins.
Ground thinks Bakersfield will be a tough opponent, because their style of play contrasts with Saddleback’s style of play and they have size.
“It’ll be very difficult. What they do well is stuff that we don’t [do well]. They really drive [the ball] well and we have trouble defending the drive,”Ground said. “They’ve got a good big guy, that can really score, he’s one of the better players in the state, and they got some guys that can shoot it, so it’s gonna be a difficult task.”
The game between Saddleback and Bakersfield is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Saddleback’s gym.