There’s no substitute for experience, and Cal State Stanislaus will be attacking its conference tournament with a roster on which even the substitutes have the right experience.
As defending California Collegiate Athletic Association champions, the Warriors’ veteran group knows exactly what it takes to win three games in three nights – all against teams they’re playing for the third time this season.
“Having the experience with the same core group is going to be huge in this tournament,” said senior guard Shey Mataele. “We can do it again – I feel that way, and the whole locker room feels that way.”
Stanislaus, as the No. 4 seed, will open its defense Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against No. 5 UC San Diego – a team the Warriors beat twice this season. The Warriors beat Cal State Los Angeles 58-52, top-seeded Cal State San Bernardino 72-67 and Chico State 82-70 in last year’s tournament.
The 2014 tourney played out over three nights at the cavernous and largely uninhabited Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. With Visit Stockton, that city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, becoming the host for many CCAA championship events, the tournament moves for the first time to Stockton Arena.
Attendance is likely to be light, but Stanislaus is hoping the majority of the fans there are on the Warriors’ side. With only 43 miles between the Stanislaus campus and Stockton Arena, the Warriors are the de facto home team.
“It’s good that it’s down the street from us instead of having to jump on a bus and drive six hours,” said Stanislaus coach Larry Reynolds. “That could help us, but for the most part we’re going to have to rely on our experience in these situations. It’s tough to beat a good team three times, and that’s what we’re going to have to do if we’re going to move forward.”
The Warriors beat the Tritons 53-48 on Jan. 2 in La Jolla and claimed the rematch 67-66 in double overtime on Feb. 7 at Fitzpatrick Arena. This time, the winner will advance to meet No. 1 seed Chico State on Friday at 5:30. Stanislaus and Chico split their two meetings, each winning on the other’s floor.
“But neither us or Chico has seen each other since December, so it would be like playing them for the first time, and both of us with better teams than we had then,” Reynolds said.
The Warriors certainly appear to have figured out some things on offense. For most of the season they were a team that struggled to find the basket, but in Friday’s win over Cal State East Bay, Stanislaus matched its season high with a 77-point output, then hoisted 84 points in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Monterey Bay.
“It’s late in the season, but we’re figuring things out,” said guard Chris Read, who scored 41 points in the two wins. “There are more games ahead of us, and as long as we keep figuring things out, there’s no reason we can’t go a long way in the postseason. We’re moving the ball, and we’re looking good.”
The CCAA tournament winner gets a bid into the NCAA Division II National Championship. Last season, the Warriors took that berth and ran with it – winning twice to reach the West Region title game. Counting the three wins at the end of the regular season, Stanislaus chose the perfect time last season to embark on a nine-game win streak.
“Last year, we had won three or four games going in, same as this year, so it’s looking the same,” Mataele said. “Hopefully, we can come out and do what we did last year. All we’ve been preaching the last two weeks is to get the last three games to go into the tournament with the same momentum, and then get the same results.”
CCAA Basketball Tournament
At Stockton Arena
Thursday’s first round
Women: Noon – No. 4 UC San Diego (18-9) vs. No. 5 CSU San Bernardino (18-8); 2:30 p.m. – No. 3 Cal Poly Pomona (19-7) vs. No. 6 CSU East Bay (18-10)
Men: 5:30 p.m. – No. 4 CSU Stanislaus (17-10) vs. No. 5 San Diego (16-10); 8 p.m. – No. 3 Humboldt State (21-7) vs. No. 6 San Bernardino (12-13)
Friday’s second round
Women: Noon – San Diego/San Bernardino vs. No. 1 CSU Dominguez Hills (24-6); 2:30 p.m. – Pomona/East Bay vs. No. 2 Humboldt State (23-4)
Men: 5:30 p.m. – Stanislaus/UCSD vs. No. 1 Chico State (21-6); 8 p.m. – Humboldt/San Bernardino vs. No. 2 Cal Poly Pomona (21-6)
Saturday’s championship games
Women: 5 p.m., Men: 7:30 p.m.
Defending champions: Women – Dominguez Hills, Men – Stanislaus
Tickets: $7 (seniors/students), $10 (GA), $15 (reserved) and $25 (courtside), available at arena box office
Radio: Games involving Stanislaus can be heard on KEFC (100.5 FM)