Giants fall in state title game

COS’ Alex Argandar dribbles the ball against West Valley. The Giants lost, 59-51, to West Valley in the state championship game to end the season.(Norma Foster/COS Athletics)

COS men’s basketball suffers a 59-51 loss to West Valley in the California Community College Athletic Association championship game; Giants end their season with a 27-6 record

COS ATHLETICS – As it has done all season, College of the Sequoias played relentless defense during the California Community College Athletic Association men’s basketball championship game.

But even holding the state’s top-ranked team 24 points below its season scoring average would not be enough to deny West Valley’s quest for perfection.

The Northern California Regional No. 1-seeded Vikings captured their first state title and finished the season 33-0 following a 59-51 victory over the NorCal No. 2 Giants on March 17 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

West Valley joins Riverside (35-0) in 1964, Compton (33-0) in 1970, Fresno City (34-0) in 2005 and Fullerton (37-0) in 2006 as the only undefeated teams in the 70-year history of the state tournament.

But it took a late flourish to get past Sequoias (27-5), which entered riding an 11-game winning streak.

In a see-saw battle that saw 11 lead changes and nine ties, the Giants held their last lead at 46-45 with 4 minutes and 13 seconds left in the game following a free throw by Jose Cuello (Harlem, N.Y.).

West Valley would retake the lead (47-46) with 3:41 remaining when Aaron Ragen sank a pair of free throws, kickstarting a game-closing 14-5 run.

Sequoias would only get within one once the rest of the game, when a 3-pointer by Alex Argandar (Modesto) off an assist from Cuello cut the deficit to 50-49 with 2:34 left.

The Giants missed six of eight shots while committing four fouls and making one turnover during the final 3:41 as the Vikings pulled away.

West Valley jumped out to a 13-5 lead early, but Sequoias rallied with a 12-2 run to take a 17-15 lead with 5:25 to play before halftime.

Sequoias went ahead by three points (27-24) on a 3-pointer by Cuello before settling for a 27-26 lead at halftime. It was only the third time all season that West Valley trailed at the break.

The Vikings went on an 11-1 run to start the second half while opening the game’s biggest lead at 37-28.

The Giants, however, responded with an 11-0 run – featuring a pair of 3-pointers by Argandar – to move back in front 39-37 with 10:38 left. Sequoias’ lead grew to four points (42-38) on a Cuello 3-pointer with 7:12 remaining, but it wouldn’t be able to hold on despite keeping West Valley well below its season averages in field goal (49.9% on the season/36% game) and 3-point (38.7% season/23.1% game) shooting.

The Vikings entered averaging 83 points per game.

West Valley also was strong defensively, limiting the Giants’ trio of post players – Jaylon Lee (Las Vegas), Jaden Haire (Hanford West High) and Cameron Clark (Gwinnett, Ga.) – to a combined eight points on four of 11 shooting, and eight rebounds. The same trio combined for 37 points and 26 rebounds during a 71-60 win over defending state champion Fullerton during the semifinals March 16.

Cuello led Sequoias with 27 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Argandar added 12 points, six rebounds and two steals.

The Giants also received four points, a rebound and a steal from Omari Nesbit (Sacramento); four rebounds and an assist from Haire; four points, two rebounds, two steals and two blocks from Lee; four points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal from Clark; and two rebounds from Davis White (Santa Clarita).

Sequoias was making its fifth consecutive appearance in the state Elite Eight field, and first trip to the final since losing 79-66 to conference rival Porterville in 2000.

The Giants were seeking to add a third state championship to the school trophy case. They beat Compton 67-51 in the final in 1982, and edged Fullerton 80-78 for the title in 1953.

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