Employing different means, Rancho Santiago and Saddleback colleges are hoping to achieve the same end--a championship--at the state community college men's basketball tournament, starting today at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester.
Rancho Santiago (28-4) enters its quarterfinal game against Merced (26-8) at 9 p.m. with the best offense in the state, averaging 90.2 points.
Saddleback (25-7), which has the state's best defense, allowing 58.9 points a game, plays Skyline (28-3) at 5 p.m. in another quarterfinal.
Both Orange County teams are in the same bracket.
In the other bracket, Ventura (28-4) plays Columbia (26-8) at 3 p.m. and Compton (25-6) plays San Joaquin Delta (28-2) at 7 p.m.
Rancho Santiago used its fast-break offense to score 100 or more points 13 times in 32 games. The Dons, the Orange Empire Conference champions, have won 22 of their last 23 games, including playoff victories over Bakersfield, 102-78, and Santa Barbara City, 72-58, after a first-round bye.
Sophomore guards Chris Jefferson and Chris Jackson, who played for UC Santa Barbara two seasons ago before they sat out last season, give Rancho Santiago the most experienced backcourt of the final eight teams.
Jackson, who jumps center and plays point guard, was voted the most valuable player in the conference and is averaging 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. Jefferson led the team in scoring with a 17.1 average.
Forward Howard Cole (14.7 points), center Brent Martin (12.7) and guard Simon Thomas (12.2) also average in double figures.
"Obviously Jackson and Jefferson have done an excellent job," said Dana Pagett, Rancho Santiago coach. "But a lot of people forget the play of Simon and Brent and Howard. . . . Mike (McConnell) has done such an outstanding job on defense this season, and a lot of people forget that, too.
"The key is our depth. We are able to do things and make adjustments as we need."
Saddleback averaged 67.6 points a game, far behind Rancho Santiago, but its 2-3 zone defense is the best in the state.
After a 3-3 start, Saddleback has won 22 of its last 26 games, and the Gauchos qualified for the state tournament by defeating West Los Angeles Valley, 64-44, Antelope Valley, 63-51, and El Camino, 59-46.
Saddleback's Vincent Smalls, a 6-foot 4-inch freshman forward from Philadelphia, leads the team in scoring (16.4) and rebounding (8.0). Tom Desiano (11.7) and Mike Minier (11.5) are the only other Gauchos to average in double figures.
Saddleback has played in the shadow of Rancho Santiago all season, losing three times to the Dons and finishing second to them in the conference.
If Rancho Santiago defeats Merced and Saddleback defeats Skyline, the teams will meet a fourth time in a semifinal game Friday at 8 p.m. The other semifinal is Friday at 6 p.m, and the championship is Saturday at 8 p.m.
Community College Notes
Despite being upset by Fullerton, 4-3, last week, Cerritos remains the top team in the Southern California baseball poll. Orange Coast is second, Los Angeles Harbor third, Mt. San Antonio fourth, Rancho Santiago fifth, El Camino sixth, Cypress seventh, College of the Canyons eighth and Citrus ninth. Fullerton and Oxnard are tied for 10th. . . . Golden West's Jeannine Battaglia was voted to the community college women's all-tournament basketball team Saturday at Cypress. . . . Saddleback's Gabe Armendariz used an 8-iron to get his first hole in one on the 162-yard par-3 third hole at the Links at Monarch Beach in Laguna Niguel last week. The ball hit behind the hole and rolled back in. . . . The Orange Coast women's swimming team puts its 49 dual-meet winning streak on the line Friday against Riverside and host Rancho Santiago in the opener of the Orange Empire Conference season. The Pirates, coached by Don Watson, have already had 11 team members qualify for the state meet at Merced, April 30 and May 1-2.