Sometime today, Lee Smelser will find out whether to schedule a Monday practice for his College of the Canyons basketball team or to wish his sophomores good luck and tell his freshmen to make sure they practice over the summer.
Today, perhaps as early as 4 p.m., Smelser's Cougars will have their postseason fate determined by a seeding meeting at Long Beach City College. There, coaches and conference representatives will decide which Western State Conference teams will receive at-large berths in the state playoffs.
If they choose a team on its ability to come back, Canyons is a sure bet. On Saturday, before a noisy crowd at Canyons, the Cougars (17-14, 6-7) rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Santa Monica, 84-79, in the final WSC game of the season.
"We're ready to play some more," Smelser said. "All we need is a shot. I think we're ready. I think we're on a little roll. The playoffs would be a great way to cap our season."
And from center Mitch McMullen: "We definitely want to get into the playoffs. This game is one down. We have six to go to get to the state championship."
Of course, 51 other community college teams share McMullen's optimism. Still, the possibility of Canyons advancing to the championship game--if they get a first one--is not too far-fetched. The Cougars, like almost all WSC teams, have shown that on any given night even the most dog-like of underdogs can pull out a win. A week ago, the unranked Cougars were still celebrating their upset of 16th-ranked Glendale. For reasons unknown to players and coaches, the WSC has been a roller-coaster conference.
After being outscored, 41-39, in the first half, the Cougars came back and scored 45 in the second half. Canyons trailed, 72-68, with five minutes left. The next two minutes was worthy of Canyons' season highlight video. Sophomore guard Kevin Honaker, playing in his last regular-season game for Canyons, hit a three-point jumper to bring Canyons within one. Canyons got the ball back and Honaker was fouled. He hit two free throws to give Canyons a 73-72 lead. Cougar Ron Stapp then stole the inbounds pass and Canyons called timeout with little more than three minutes left.
After the break, McMullen hit a turn-around jumper to put Canyons up by three. Santa Monica's Darius Henderson hit two free throws to bring the Corsairs (14-15, 4-9) to within one, 75-74, but Canyons' Butch Mettinger then scored on a three-pointer. McMullen hit two field goals, was fouled on the second and made the free throw. Kevin Parks added a field goal for Santa Monica and Henderson added one and a free throw but it was too late.
McMullen finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds, despite playing most of the second half with four fouls. Honaker, who along with Mettinger made three three-pointers, scored 23 points. Mettinger finished with 17.
"Now, only if we can get our foot in the door," McMullen said.
Said Smelser: "We showed that we can come back. We've showed that we can play with anybody. Now we'll just wait and see if they're going to let us play."
Canyons 39 45 -- 84
Santa Monica 41 38 -- 79
CANYONS--Stapp 6, Hines 2, McMullen 29, Moloznik 3, Honaker 23, Mettinger 17, Williams 4.
SANTA MONICA--Whiteto 2, Moos 13, Courtney 24, Parks 4, Preiss 12, Henderson 16, Bell 6.