Giants advance to Elite Eight

COS’ Omari Nesbit dribbles the ball against Porterville this past Wednesday. With a 72-53 win over Porterville, the Giants improved to 20-5 overall and 8-3 in the Central Valley Conference.(NORMA FOSTER/COS ATHLETICS)

COS men’s basketball defeats Redwoods 70-55 at home in the Northern California Regional finals; the Giants now advance to the Elite Eight at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut

COS ATHLETICS – For the fifth consecutive championship season, College of the Sequoias will be among the final eight men’s basketball teams chasing a California Community College Athletic Association title.

And the Giants have the state’s stingiest defense — in terms of shooting percentage allowed – to thank.

Third-seeded Sequoias didn’t allow a point over a 7-minute, 51-second stretch of the second half to pull away from No. 22 Redwoods for a 70-55 victory in one of four Northern California Regional finals March 9 at Porter Field House.

Sequoias’ seventh-seeded women were also in the NorCal Regional finals, but lost 71-45 against No. 2 San Joaquin Delta in Stockton. Details from that game were not available as this report was prepared.

The Giants’ men (25-5) ride a nine-game winning streak into the state’s Elite Eight tournament, set for March 15-17 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. They will face Southern California’s No. 5-seeded West Los Angeles (18-12) at 5 p.m. March 15.

“I think the turnaround we’ve had since our last loss four or five weeks ago has been remarkable,” said Sequoias coach Dallas Jensen, whose team allows opponents a state-low 35.6% shooting percentage. “I think we’ve been playing the best basketball we’ve played all season, and a lot of that is because of our effort on the defensive end.

“(The Corsairs) are the hardest team to prep for that we played all year. Their movement, their IQ, their shooting ability – they are so well coached. They are just a handful on that end of the floor. So to see us limit them to under 30 points each half, 55 total, I’m just so proud of the guys’ buy-in on the defensive end of the floor.”

The Giants jumped out to a 13-point lead (25-12) midway through the first half on a three-point play by Cameron Clark (Gwinnett, Ga.), and led by 11 points (40-29) following a pair of free throws by Jaylon Lee (Las Vegas) to open the second half.

Lee, however, picked up his third foul on the ensuing possession by Redwoods (19-12) and went to the bench.

The Corsairs responded by outscoring Sequoias 21-12 to close their deficit to two points (52-50) before Lee, a 6-foot-9 post, returned with 8:49 left in the game.

Redwoods went on to tie the score 53-53 on a 3-pointer by Kai Purcell with 8:22 remaining.

But the Giants didn’t give up a point on the Corsairs’ next 12 possessions as Lee grabbed seven of his game-leading 10 rebounds and made a steal.

Sequoias’ suffocating defense forced Redwoods, which shot 46.1% from the field on the season, to miss eight consecutive shots and make four turnovers before the Corsairs scored again.

“We said five kills (defensive stops) gets you a win,” Lee said. “We definitely got those kills. That contributed a lot.”

Lee also scored seven points after Redwoods tied the score to help Sequoias avoid the upset bid.

Lee rebounded his own miss and scored a putback with 7:47 to play to put the Giants back in front for good at 55-53. He would score Sequoias’ next five points as they built a 60-53 lead with 5:32 left.

“Jaylon was fantastic,” Jensen said. “Obviously, (Central Valley Conference co-MVP) Jose (Cuello) has been our anchor this year, but I told Jaylon you have to bring this game home. He was just a brute on the interior. He guarded well, he rebounded, he protected the rim and he scored. He was monumental down the stretch for us.”

Sequoias extended its lead back to double digits (64-53) when Jaden Haire (Hanford West High) scored on a thunderous dunk off an assist from Alex Argandar (Modesto) with 1:43 to play.

Another dunk by Haire with 31 seconds left punctuated a 15-0 run that allowed the Giants to grow their lead to 68-53.

By the time Trey Neff broke Redwoods’ scoring drought with a pair of free throws with 31 seconds remaining following a technical foul on Haire, the outcome was essentially sealed. The Corsairs missed their final 10 shots overall.

“Defense. This whole week we were gameplanning defense, defense, defense,” Haire said. “We knew if we stopped their run, we win this thing.”

Haire finished with a game-leading 22 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and a block to lead the Giants.

Sequoias had four other players score in double figures, including Cuello (Harlem, N.Y), who had 12 points, six rebounds, two steals and an assist.

Omari Nesbit (Sacramento) had 11 points and a steal; Lee finished with 10 points, two assists, two steals and a block; and Clark added 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

The Giants also received five points, three rebounds and a block from Davis White (Santa Clarita); six assists, four rebounds and a steal from Argandar; and three rebounds, three assists and a steal from Mikey Ficher (Tulare Western).

Sequoias is headed to the Elite Eight for the sixth time in the past eight championship seasons, and for the 18th time in program history.

“We’ve worked hard for this and we deserved it,” Lee said. “We had a lot of challenges for the year, but we overcame it. I’m just happy we got it. I’m so proud of my guys.”

The rest of the Elite Eight field features NorCal No. 1-seeded West Valley (30-0); No. 5 Yuba (28-2) and No. 7 Cabrillo (25-5); and Southern California No. 1 Fullerton (26-4), No. 2 San Diego City (26-4) and No. 11 Cerro Coso (25-6).

Other quarterfinal matchups include San Diego City vs. Yuba at 1 p.m., Cerro Coso vs. West Valley at 3 p.m. and Fullerton vs. Cabrillo at 7 p.m. The semifinals are set for 5 and 7 p.m. March 16, with the championship at 3:30 p.m. March 17.

San Diego City features some familiar faces as former Giants coach Rusty Smith is an assistant to head coach Mitch Charlens, who had a stint as an assistant to Smith at Sequoias. Smith won a program-record 352 games during his 18 seasons coaching the Giants.

General admission tickets are priced at $12 for adults and $8 for seniors 60 and older, students with proper ID and children older than 6. Children 6 and younger are free.

Games will also be streamed at https://baosn.tv/.

Sequoias is seeking the third state championship in program history to add to titles won in 1953 and 1982.

“It’s an opportunity for us to go up against some of the best teams in the state of California,” Jensen said. “I tell our guys every year, as much as winning conference is fun, to me, it’s the experience for these guys getting the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight that is even more rewarding than a conference championship. So, if we can win three (games at the Elite Eight), that would be wonderful. But I’m just so proud of the boys that they get to go down there and have this opportunity, and hopefully it’s some extra exposure for a couple guys.”

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