The Saddleback men's basketball program captured its third state title on Sunday with a 50-47 win over East Los Angeles College in Cerritos. Dusty Baker was named tournament MVP and the Gaucho defense was suffocating, holding the Huskies to a season-low in points.
Saddleback entered the finals with the top field goal percentage defense in the state and in the state finals it proved to be the difference. After trailing 28-25 at half, the Gauchos dug deep into the well and pulled out another 20 minutes of hustle and determination, holding East Los Angeles to just 19 points in the final 20 minutes. The Huskies were drawn into a half-court game by Saddleback and couldn't buy a basket, making just five shots from the floor in the second 20 minutes and being whistled for a number of shot clock violations. Baker took home the MVP hardware while Conor Clifford and Maleke Haynes were also named to the all-tournament team, but it was the defense that proved to be the difference in the finals as the Huskies made only 14 shots from the field in the entire game while turning the ball over 18 times.
Saddleback came out slowly for a second straight game, falling behind 10-2 after five turnovers in the opening 3:13 of the game. Andrew Bournes finally ignited the offense, scoring just the second basket of the game for Saddleback at the 15:53 mark and then draining a three-pointer on the following possession to cut the deficit to 10-7. Bournes would later make another layup at 12:58 to give the Gauchos their first lead of the game (13-12), but it would be the last time Saddleback would be on the right side of the scoreboard in the opening half as East Los Angeles made a number of three-pointers with five different Huskies connected from long range.
Michael Cardenas opened the scoring for East Los Angeles on the opening possession of the second half to extend the lead to five and later Marquis Salmon completed a three-point play for the Huskies as East Los Angeles looked like a team ready to win its first ever state title in men's basketball, leading 33-27 with 18:47 remaining. Unfortunately for East Los Angeles, the defense started to take its effect as the Huskies would go the next 7:07 without making a shot from the floor as Saddleback tied the game at 36-36 when Bournes drained another shot from beyond the arc.
Te'Shon Burton finally answered for East Los Angeles with a three-pointer at the 11:40 mark and later Miles Ford became the sixth Husky to drain a shot from long range to push the lead to 42-38 with 9:38 remaining, but it was evident that East Los Angeles was starting to play a style of basketball that was out of their comfort zone after entering the game averaging 82.5 points-per-game. ELAC looked like a team trying not to lose rather than trying to win, which was exactly what the Gauchos were looking for. After Richard Bivens made a layup with 8:35 remaining in the game to give the Huskies a 44-40 lead, ELAC failed to make another shot from the floor the rest of the game, managing just three free throws while the Gauchos rallied past them in the final four minutes of the game.
Saddleback finally grabbed back the lead with 2:57 remaining when Baker made a jump shot for a 46-45 lead. It was the first lead for the Gauchos in nearly 20 minutes, but proved to be enough as Baker then followed with another jumper with 1:14 remaining for a 48-45 lead. Baker finished with just eight points on the day, but proved to be a sharpshooter at the right time for a second straight game in crunch time.
Marquis Salmon narrowed the lead to 48-47 with 1:08 remaining as East Los Angeles wasn't going to down without a fight, but a turnover by Primativo Gomez and a layup by Haynes with 11 seconds remaining left the Huskies down three in the closing moments. East Los Angeles had one more chance, but a jumper by Burton was off the mark and Haynes grabbed the rebound, throwing the ball to the other end of the court. Unfortunately, the ball went out of bounds with 0.6 seconds left, leaving yet another attempt at a full-length miracle. The inbounds pass from ELAC was stolen by Baker at midcourt, and the celebration was on.
Only six players scored for Saddleback all night, with all but two points coming from the starters. Clifford led the Gauchos with 16 points while Bournes had 14, with Baker and Collin Host both scoring eight.
"The mark of a great basketball team is how they respond when their backs are against the wall," head coach Andy Ground said. "This weekend their backs were against the wall a lot and they kept fighting. It was a collective effort."
For Saddleback, it was a third state championship in men's basketball, all coming in the past 14 years. It moves them into an elite group as they became just the ninth school in the state to win three state titles.
It improved Saddleback's record to 33-2 overall, just one shy of a record 34 wins back in 1979-80 when their only loss of the season was in the state semifinals in finishing 34-1. It also improved Ground's coaching record to 189-42 (.818) in seven seasons, which is the highest winning percentage in the history of the program.
CONGRATULATIONS SADDLEBACK GAUCHOS, CCCAA STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS FOR 2015