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CHAMPIONSHIPS

Santa Clara Has It Going, Finally

V-AA: Saints have qualified for championship game despite several speedbumps along the way.

March 06, 1998|LAUREN PETERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — If not for the road being so well-traveled, the Santa Clara High boys' basketball team might not have found the way.

As it is, the Saints have taken the scenic route, running into every twist, turn and bump en route to the Southern Section Division V-AA championship game against Pacific Hills at 6 tonight at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center.

Unseeded Santa Clara (14-12), defending division champion, is on a familiar path, in search of its 15th section title in Coach Lou Cvijanovich's 40-year tenure.

The quest has not been without struggle for the Saints. And fourth-seeded Pacific Hills (23-7) is only the last obstacle to overcome.

"A lot of bad things happened this year," Santa Clara guard B.J. Ward said. "It seemed like things were falling apart there for a while."

It started on the first day of practice when junior Nick Jones broke his left foot when he stepped on a teammate's foot.

Then forward Dave Harper suffered a broken index finger, and the injuries were followed by an even bigger hurt.

Cvijanovich's older brother died five weeks ago. Three weeks ago, the coach underwent gall bladder surgery.

"From the first day of practice, it's been a lot of struggle, a lot of heartache," Cvijanovich said. "These kids will go down in history as some of the toughest we've ever had."

Santa Clara has won four consecutive road games on the way to the final. The last three victories have come with help from Jones, who had 17 points and seven rebounds in a semifinal victory over Chadwick.

The Saints say it is no coincidence that their playoff surge parallels Jones' return.

"It's not just his points and rebounds," Ward said. "He gives us confidence, he's a hard worker on defense and he's our leader. We were all there, playing as a team and then when Nicky went down, it was like we were kind of lost for a while."

Without Jones, who averaged 16.5 points and 9.9 rebounds as a sophomore, Santa Clara tied for third in the Frontier League with a 4-6 record after winning 13 consecutive league titles.

"We played like we had a piston missing," Cvijanovich said. "But we're hitting on all eight cylinders now."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Southern Section Boys' Basketball

* WHERE: At Bren Events Center, UC Irvine

* DIRECTIONS: 405 South to Irvine, exit at Jamboree and turn right. Go left at Campus. Go right at University, then left at Mesa. Go about two blocks on Mesa and Bren Events Center is on the right.

* TICKET INFORMATION: $8 general admission. $4 for children under 12. Parking is $4.

DIVISION V-AA

* WHO: Pacific Hills (23-7) vs. Santa Clara (14-12)

* WHEN: Today, 6 p.m.

* WHO TO WATCH: Santa Clara junior swingman Nick Jones has scored 35 points in three games since returning to the lineup. Guard B.J. Ward averages 18.8, center Ryan McGill is at 13.7 and forward Scott Sorich at 10.6 for the Saints. Pacific Hills rotates 10 players, with senior forward Conrad Adamczak averaging 19.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, guard Ryan Abrahams averaging 19.4 points and point guard Brandon Owens averaging 8.7 points and 7.0 assists in an up-tempo offense.

* FAST FACT: Santa Clara is making its 17th appearance in a final and is shooting for its 15th championship.

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