By Travis West | Staff Writer
After ending 2012 with a 10-5 record, the Riverside City College men’s basketball team has established themselves as a powerhouse in the Orange Empire Conference with a 7-1 record against conference teams and a 16-7 record overall.
The team has found a formula for success and is thriving.
In the month of January, the Tigers have gone 7-1 with the team’s only loss coming from their rival, Saddleback Gauchos 56-52 at the Wheelock Gym on Jan. 23.
In that game, The Tigers were held to a total of four field goals in the entire first half of play and went 1 for 7 from the three-point line.
At their lowest point, the Tigers were down by 8 points and if it wasn’t for the 11 turnovers by the Gauchos the Tigers may have been out of the game early, but the team fought back and were only down 17 to 15 at halftime.
In the second half, the Tigers overcame the Gauchos onslaught and tied the score at 46 with two minutes left to play.
Down the stretch, the two teams traded bucket for bucket as the clock reached the one minute mark.
However, the Tigers missed an easy lay up opportunity to tie the game and the Gauchos took advantage of the free throws and extended their lead.
It was a tough loss, but players felt that game prepared them for what the final month would feel like before playoffs.
The most impressive thing about the Tigers this season is that all the players are buying into head coach John Smith’s system.
It is hard to pick out just one player on the Tigers who consistently dominates.
Instead the Tigers give their opposition problems because they cannot key in on one player.
With the loss to the Gauchos fresh on their minds, the Tigers looked to take their frustrations out on the Irvine Valley Lasers just two days later at home.
The Lasers are very undersized and it was the Tigers point of attack.
The Tigers went 26 for 42 from the field with most points coming from the low-post.
The Lasers made a run in the second half closing the Tiger lead to four points with six minutes remaining, but the Tigers rallied back and kept getting to the free throw line where the Tigers knocked down 18 out of 27 free throws.
Smith stressed free throws all week leading up to the game and they responded when they needed to.
All five of the Tigers starters played more than 20 minutes and each had points in the double Tigers pounce on the competition early digits.
Freshman Anthony Rounds was part of the starting five and contributes coach Smith to why the team had success.
“Coach lets us shoot the ball. He told me that if I’m open, then let the shot go,” Rounds said. sophmore guard and conference leader in assists, Mason Biddle finished with nine assists and 18 points as the Tigers won 74-63.
The Tiger’s momentum rolled into their most recent home game against the Orange Coast College Pirates on Jan. 30.
The Tigers ran away with an easy 81-56 blowout victory over the Pirates.
Tigers out rebounded the Pirates 49 to 23, with 23 of the Tigers rebounds came on the offensive end.
Multiple looks at the basket won the game for the Tigers.
It was another victory that showed that the team can get scoring from any player.
Nearly every player on the Tiger roster had at least one point, but only two players had double digits.
Teams that have multiple scorers on any given night sometimes have issues with players not getting enough touches, not this team.
During the team photo session the players were seen cracking jokes and showing that they are still college kids at heart.
Coach Smith is known to take his players on trips before the season for team building and the players have showed that they would make sacrifices for the team.
The team is at the point in the season where everything matters and every win is crucial.
Reaching the state finals with leadership from coach Smith and the other coaching staff is a very realistic possibility and up to this point, the Tigers have shown that they can compete with the best teams in the conference, but will need to keep the momentum going.
Coach Smith likes the way his team is performing at the moment and hopes that they peak at the right time.
“As we get closer to the end, my rotation won’t be 12 guys. It will be eight or nine sometimes 10 guys that are playing the best.”
The team will be on the road for a game at Fullerton on Feb. 8.
They will make their next home appearance on Feb. 13 against Santa Ana College.