Rancho Santiago used its outside shooting to break the game open and defeat Santa Barbara City, 72-58, in Saturday night's Southern Division community college men's basketball final at Santa Ana.
Both teams relied on their strengths. Rancho Santiago made 9 of 15 three-point shots and offset Santa Barbara City's methodical inside game.
With the victory, Rancho Santiago advanced to the state tournament and will play Merced on Thursday at Loyola Marymount. The Dons will be seeded No. 1 from the Southern Division after Compton upset top-seeded Cerritos, 81-75, Saturday night.
"Being in the final eight shows that this is a really good team," said Dana Pagett, Rancho Santiago coach. "I feel we have a good chance of winning."
The Dons (28-4) set a team record for victories in a season with 28, breaking the previous mark of 27, set in 1975.
"It was a real physical game, and I don't think our guys quite knew how physical it was going to be," Pagett said. "We had to open the game up with our outside shooting, and we have several good shooters."
Most prominent was guard Simon Thomas, who scored 17 points and made four of eight three-point shots. Victor Wharton added three of four three-point shots and finished with 16 points.
Santa Barbara City (23-9) attempted only six three-point shots, making one. The Vaqueros took an 11-1 lead, almost solely on layups and offensive rebounds.
Rancho Santiago didn't score its first field goal until Wharton's first three-point shot with 12:49 left in the half.
The basket sparked the Dons, who outscored Santa Barbara City, 19-8, and tied the score at 20, on a three-point shot by Thomas. The Dons took the lead for good in the first half on a three-point shot by Wharton, and led 31-28 at halftime.
"We knew they were a tough defensive team, and we just tried to go outside on them," Pagett said.
The lead might have been even larger, but Rancho Santiago made only 10 of 20 free throws.
Rancho Santiago continued to capitalize on its outside shooting in the second half and also neutralized Santa Barbara City's rebounding advantage. The Vaqueros had a 21-9 edge in rebounding at halftime but finished the game with only two more rebounds (31-29).
Chris Jefferson scored 16 points for Rancho Santiago. Reynold Baly led Santa Barbara City with 13 points but was held to just two in the second half. Guillermo Myers added 11 points and had a game-high 12 rebounds.