Posted By Press Democrat Staff Writer Michael Coit:
Back in Ventura County to again face Mt. San Antonio College in the women’s state basketball finals, Santa Rosa Junior College aims to repeat last year’s upset victory.
A win Saturday puts the Bear Cubs in the championship game as Santa Rosa bids for its first state title since 1988. While making back to back final four appearances is a great accomplishment, this group is positive they can take the next step.
“We’ve played top teams before and we tend to play better. We have confidence that we know we can beat them,” said point guard Mia Greco.
The Bear Cubs and Mounties play Saturday’s second semifinal at Ventura College. Game time is 7 p.m. City College of San Francisco and Cypress College meet in the other contest. Sunday’s championship is set for 3:30 p.m.
Coming off three home court wins against teams the Bear Cubs were supposed to handle in the NorCal regionals, Santa Rosa faces a tall, high scoring Mt. San Antonio team that will take the Bear Cubs best to beat. Santa Rosa is No. 10 in the state. Mt. San Antonio brings comes in with the No. 3 ranking.
“They’re very athletic. They’re pretty balanced,” said Santa Rosa coach Lacey Campbell. “At this point everyone has talented players that can knock down shots and play defense. The difference is execution.”
Strong defense has largely carried Santa Rosa this far. Staying quick to close on shooters, help around the basket and keep hands in passing lanes is particularly important against Mt. San Antonio.
Averaging 75 points a game, Mt. San Antonio can score from anywhere on the court. The Mounties like to get the ball to a trio of players 6 feet or taller and their guards matchup well with the Bear Cubs backcourt.
“That’s our thing, team defense,” Greco said. “That’s one of the aspects where you have to work as a team and make sure all five players are all on the same page. “We’ve really improved on that.”
Unselfish team play also is Santa Rosa’s strength with the ball. Lacking a superstar, the Bear Cubs are difficult to defend with five players averaging 8 or more and the team scoring 64 points a game during the season and playoffs.
“They have really gelled on the court,” Campbell said.
The guard tandem of former All-Empire players of the year Greco (Petaluma) and Jen Tsurumoto (Analy) combine for 27 points and 6 assists. Both keep defenders on edge as they can slash into the lane or pull up for deep shots.
Ashley Morgan (Maria Carrillo) has matured as a wing who works high and low for 9 points and a team high 8 rebounds a game.
Down low, Krysten Copeland (Santa Rosa) and Marie Sweet combine for 16 points and 11 rebounds per contest.
With only Greco and Copeland back from last year’s team, Santa Rosa has come together following an uneven start. The young team learned to play together against a tough nonconference schedule and then dominated Big 8 Conference play, losing only once.
Winning 19 of their last 20, the Bear Cubs are playing best when it counts the most.
A year ago, Santa Rosa found the right formula — solid defense and different players getting hot — to play well in the championship tournament at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The finals then featured eight teams.
Going into Saturday’s semifinal, Mt. San Antonio has the advantage of experience. Santa Rosa believes they have the edge in toughness. The Bear Cubs are young and fearless.
“This group has some of the most competitive kids I’ve coached. They really hate to lose,” Campbell said.
Greco knows well the need to stay strong with the biggest games ahead. At last year’s finals, Greco scored her season high in the Mt. San Antonio win and was at her best again late in the semifinal loss to Fullerton College.
“I told the girls not to get too nervous,” Greco said. “Be excited that we’re here, but just relax and be focused and understand why we’re here.”
CCCAA Womens Basketball Championship
Santa Rosa Junior College vs. Mt. San Antonio College, 7 p.m.
Cypress College vs. City College of San Francisco, 5 p.m.
Sunday, Championship: 3:30 p.m.