(Joseph Espiritu/Lariat Staff)
The Saddleback College men’s basketball team won’t sneak up on anyone much longer in these playoffs.
After taking out Orange Empire Conference champion and rival Riverside in the Regional final, the Gauchos played out another solid game plan Friday (March 12) and upset the top-ranked team in the state, Ohlone College, 57-43, and advanced to the semifinals of the CCCAA State Championship.
“We executed our game plan perfectly,” Saddleback coach Andy Ground said. “We moved their zone around and got inside.”
South No. 4 Saddleback improved to 27-5 on the season. The Gauchos will take on the San Jose-Citrus winner on Saturday. Saddleback is familiar with South No. 2 Citrus, but would face a new challenge with North No. 3 San Jose.
Saddleback opened the game unintimidated by the atmosphere and hit two three-pointers for the early 6-0 lead.
“We hit some big shots in the first half,” Ground said. “That gave us a cushion and we were able to maintain that.”
The Gauchos’ early work on the outside set up a plan to work through.
“We did a good job early with the threes,” guard Perry Webster said. “It brought them out. We knew it would be tough to get inside, but we knew we could.”
Saddleback’s outside-inside plan that allowed the Gauchos to be patient, wait for the holes in the zone, and punch through gave them a 34-21 halftime lead.
“We took care of the ball and got in the gaps,” guard Tyler McManaman said. “It was a great team effort.”
The second half consisted of each team matching the other.
As the clock ticked lower, Ohlone didn’t go quietly. As Saddleback’s shooting percentage dipped, Ohlone hit free throws and got within seven points in the final minutes, but couldn’t overcome the deficit and fell 57-43.
McManaman led the Gauchos with 12 points and added four rebounds, an assist and a steal. Webster led Saddleback with eight assists and added eight points and four rebounds.
The Gauchos only shot 41.2 percent for the game and 36 percent in the second half. That second half shooting percentage brought up another season-long problem that needs to be avoided if Saddleback wants to continue on.
“We didn’t shoot a great percentage,” Webster said. “We have to keep it up and execute. Each game is going to bring a new challenge to overcome.”
That new challenge will come with either San Jose or Citrus in the semifinals, but Citrus is nothing new to the Coach Ground and the Gauchos.
“I’ve seen Citrus many times,” Ground said. “Citrus is very good and plays a very fast-paced game.”
Though Saddleback and Citrus did not meet this season, Webster acknowledges the long rivalry.
“They don’t like us, and we don’t like them,” Webster said smiling. “They try to pressure a lot.”
San Jose is a relative unknown to Saddleback, but that doesn’t deter the confidence.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” McManaman said.