Santa Rosa Junior College men upset Gavilan to reach state tournament

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Tough defense in the post led the sixth-seeded Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball team to an upset playoff win in the regional final, defeating third-seeded Gavilan College 68-66 Saturday night in Gilroy.

“I knew it was going to be a tough game to win and I knew we had to do a lot of things well and we did. We had a couple missed free throws and a couple turnovers that almost cost us down the stretch, but we held on,” SRJC coach Craig McMillan said.

The Bear Cubs (23-7 overall, 12-4 Big 8) entered the game looking to shut down the Rams’ up-tempo offense, especially in the post where Gavilan (27-3 overall, 12-0 Coast-South) can excel.

Santa Rosa got some experience facing a similar type of offense in its 88-75 win over Las Positas on March 1 in the second round of the California Community College Athletic Association’s NorCal regional bracket.

With Saturday’s win Santa Rosa advances to the state championship tournament in Ventura.

The Bear Cubs held the Rams to only 24 points in the post, where Gavilan normally thrives.

“They’re bigger and more athletic than us across the board pretty much, especially inside, and we had to help out a lot inside and we had to trap the post at times,” McMillan said of Gavilan. “We tired in the second half and the athleticism kind of hurt us a little bit, but overall I thought we did a good job defensively.”

Santa Rosa earned a comfortable lead in the first half, but the Rams fought back until they were down by one point with less than 10 seconds left.

But with only one second on the clock, Santa Rosa sophomore Skylar Chavez — who leads the state in scoring with almost 28 points per game — drew a charge to force a turnover and win the game.

“The most pivotal movement was when Skylar took that charge with a second to go. I mean, that was the game right there,” McMillan said.

Gavilan came out ready to battle in the first half, pressing the Bear Cubs from the first whistle — but Santa Rosa fought through and went on a 15-6 run in the first five minutes of the game.

Even so, the Rams did not relent and went on a 11-3 run when Chavez took a short rest on the bench.

Chavez checked back into the game and knocked down a couple of needed shots. His offense, combined with the Bear Cubs’ defense that forced the Rams to shoot from deep, allowed Santa Rosa to keep the lead at 24-17 with just over six minutes left in the first half.

But Santa Rosa then committed more fouls, which the Rams took advantage of by converting their free throws to shorten the Bear Cubs’ lead to 39-26 going into halftime.

Santa Rosa scored more points in the paint than the Rams in the first half, but in the second half Gavilan started executing down low and cut the Bear Cubs’ lead to 59-56 with just over six minutes left.

Gavilan’s leading scorer, Ibn Zaid, fouled out with 27 points as the Bear Cubs led 67-63 with just under a minute left in the game.

Just as he did last week against Las Positas, Santa Rosa’s Ryan Perez hit a clutch 3-pointer to give the Bear Cubs a four-point lead with only seconds remaining.

But the Rams came right back down the court and guard Daylon Potts hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one point with 17 seconds left.

With eight seconds remaining, Gavilan was down 67-66 and had a chance to win the game with the last shot. But with one second left on the clock, Chavez drew the charge to seal the third-round playoff win.

Chavez led the way for SRJC, scoring 27 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

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