Rancho Santiago College played a sluggish first half but improved in the second half and easily defeated Bakersfield, 102-78, Wednesday in a Southern Division men's community college state tournament basketball game at Rancho Santiago.
The Dons (27-4) need a victory over Santa Barbara City to advance to the state tournament for the first time since the 1982-83 season. Santa Barbara City defeated Grossmont, 91-89, in triple overtime Wednesday and will play the Dons Saturday night at Rancho Santiago.
Rancho Santiago, which won the Orange Empire Conference, had received a first-round bye and 10 days off, so the Dons' erratic play in the early going was not surprising. They held a 43-35 halftime lead.
The Dons also struggled early in the second half, and Bakersfield (19-12) cut the lead to 46-42 with 16:22 left on a basket by Dion Beed, who scored 11 points.
But a basket, steal, basket and free throw by Chris Jefferson gave Rancho Santiago a 51-42 lead.
Chris Jackson, the Orange Empire Conference most valuable player, then scored six of the Dons' eight next points, and Rancho Santiago led, 59-46.
The lead increased to 65-46 after Simon Thomas hit consecutive three-point baskets, one from each corner of the gym. The second came with 11:46 to play.
"We did a lot better in the second half," said Dana Pagett, Rancho Santiago coach. "We just seem to have some zip and go we were missing in the first half."
Starters Jackson and Jefferson both scored 20 points for Rancho Santiago, which had five players in double figures, three of whom came off the bench. Two other players scored nine points each.
Howard Cole scored 15 and Victor Wharton 14, including a driving layup with 31 seconds left to put Rancho Santiago ahead by 101-71. It was the 12th time Rancho Santiago scored 100 or more points this season.
Ralph Garcia scored 10 points and Brent Martin and Thomas 9 each for the Dons.
It was the 21st victory in the last 22 games for Rancho Santiago, which was seeded second in the Southern Division.
But even with the Dons' high seeding and recent success, Pagett isn't ready to book a room at the state tournament at Loyola Marymount March 12-14.
"We have a tough one coming up," he said. "When you get to the final 16 teams (in the state), you have your work cut out for you."
In other playoff games:
Saddleback 63, Antelope Valley 51--The Gauchos (24-7) led 38-22 at the half and 43-24 four minutes into the second half before the Marauders went on a 13-1 run to cut the lead to 44-37 with 10:39 left.
Renny Ingram was 7 for 9 from the free-throw line in the final 10 minutes and scored a team-high 13 points. Vincent Smalls added 12 for Saddleback, which will play host to El Camino Saturday night for a berth in the state playoffs.
I.C. Lewis scored 24 points for Antelope Valley (16-14).
Imperial Valley 92, Cypress 75--Tyrone Kingwood scored 27 points, Robert Cantrall 21 points and Kevin Hood 15 points for the Arabs (23-8). Imperial Valley took control early and led, 37-28, at halftime.
Andy Olivarez, who led the Orange Empire Conference in scoring with a 22-point average, scored 21 for Cypress (18-15). He also had eight rebounds.
Eric Krivashei scored 11 points and Greg Spruell 10 for the Chargers.
El Camino 58, Orange Coast 55--The Warriors (26-4) hung on to eliminate the Pirates (23-10) and will face Saddleback Saturday for a berth in the state tournament.
Rob Mase (23 points) scored with 2:54 left to put OCC ahead, 53-52, then scored again with 2:08 left to put the Pirates up, 55-52.
El Camino's Charles White (21 points) scored to cut the lead to 54-55 with 1:56 left.
After an OCC miss, David Lee made two free throws to put El Camino ahead, 56-55, with 50 seconds left. Brian Trevino had a chance to put OCC ahead with 46 seconds left but missed the front end of a one-and-one. El Camino missed a free throw, then Mase missed a layup with 12 seconds left.
White made one free throw to give El Camino a 58-55 lead with 10 seconds left and OCC missed two three-point shots in the final 10 seconds.