Riverside knocked out by arch rival

With a spot in the state tournament on the line, the Riverside City College men’s basketball team hit a dry spell in the last five minutes of regulation, and lost to Saddleback College in overtime 73-69.

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By Javier Cabrera / Sports Editor

Hardest part is accepting- Saddleback’s Robert Curtis consoles a Riverside City College basetball player after their 73-69 loss in overtime to Saddleback in the Southern Regional final. The loss came after the RCC Tigers gave up 27 free throws to Saddleback in the second half on March 6 in Wheelock gym. (Brandon Rivera / Staff Photographer)

By Javier Cabrera / Sports Editor

With a spot in the state tournament on the line, the Riverside City College men’s basketball team hit a dry spell in the last five minutes of regulation, and lost to Saddleback College in overtime 73-69.

The game was full of energy and emotion as both teams played aggressive, dove for loose balls and played hard for the full 40 minutes of regulation and the five extra minutes of overtime.

Supporters for both teams were on the edge of their seats for the whole game as few jabbed unfriendly remarks to the opposing team.

“It is just emotion. It’s a big game, a big rival, so there is going to be emotions, no hard feelings at all,” said Saddleback’s coach Andy Ground.

In the first half, RCC made 12 field goals on 27 attempts and made 11 free throws on 15 attempts and took a 36-29 lead at halftime.

RCC held the Saddleback Gauchos to 11 field goals on 28 attempts and six free throws on seven attempts, and kept a command throughout the first half.

“They were killing us on the boards, and they owned the paint,” Ground said. “It was man against kids, and they were the man in the first half.”

Riverside seemed like it was on its way to the state tournament for a second straight season as the Tigers dominated the first half, and matching Saddleback’s high intensity play-by-play.

Unfortunately, as in all basketball games, no lead is a safe lead and a winner cannot be determined until the final buzzer.

Throughout the second half, Riverside lost focus as it went cold from the field, scoring nine out of 30 field goals and allowed Saddleback College to regain the lead from the free-throw line.

“We changed the philosophy of what we were trying to do and we were going to jam (the ball) inside either on the pass or dribble for the entire second half,” Ground said about Saddleback’s second half turnaround.

Saddleback managed to create problems for Riverside by taking it out of the game from the free-throw line as the Gauchos attempted 27 free throws and made 17 of them in the half.

“It is kind of hard to win in a game in the second half when you only get six free throw attempts to their 27,” said Riverside’s coach John Smith.

During the regular season, Kevin Bradshaw had 29 points and 17 rebounds in two games against Saddleback.

Smith said Saddleback’s only plan in the second half was to take Bradshaw out of the game.

“Bradshaw was in no trouble in the first half at all, so we were trying to attack him and try to get him a couple of ‘chippies’ because he is good player,” Ground said.

Donovan Buford had 20 points to lead the Tigers in scoring, but it would not be enough as the Tigers scored 22 points in the second half to be tied at 58 after 40 minutes of play.

Momentum did not find its way back to Riverside as the fouls and struggles on offense continued for the Tigers throughout the overtime period.

The final nail was hammered on the coffin when Saddleback’s T.J Lipold connected with a dagger three-pointer.

“T.J sat for most of the second half and he came in and hit a big three, so that was the difference of the game right there,” Ground said.

Tyler McManaman led all Gauchos with 24 points in the overtime victory and the second Saddleback victory on Riverside’s floor this season.

“A lot of luck,” Ground said about winning two games on Riverside’s floor. “They are a good team and well coached and sometimes it’s the bounce of the ball and sometimes you got to get a little lucky to get the win.”

Despite the disappointing second half performance by the RCC Tigers, the reaction in the locker room after the game was like a family losing a family member seconds ago, because the team will not be able to defend its state title in the final tournament.

“I am proud of our guys,” Smith said. “I am proud of how hard they fought and how they handled adversity, but there is no way anybody can win a game shooting six free throws in the second half in your own gym.”

Fighting through adversity- Riverside City College’s Davie Champagine (center) goes up for a strong basket against Saddleback College’s Wendell Fainess (right) in a 73-69 Southern Regional final loss. (Brandon Rivera / Staff Photographer)

Discipline is the key to success- RCC’s coach John Smith discusses game strategy with James Calhoun during the period Riverside was losing momentum. (Brandon Rivera / Staff Photographer)