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College men's hoops: Make some room

COC men join Citrus at top of conference standings

Posted: January 26, 2011 10:46 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons’ Parker Dominguez, right, goes up for a shot against Citrus College’s Greg McFarland (40) and Brandon Parga, center, at College of the Canyons on Wednesday. COC won 82-72.

Don’t count them out just yet.

After a rocky start to the season, College of the Canyons men’s basketball has rallied to a tie for first place in the Western State Conference, Southern Division standings.

And it had to beat the team that came into the day atop the standings to do it.

The Cougars locked down on defense and made free throws down the stretch to hold off Citrus College 82-72 Wednesday night at COC.

For most of the game COC led, but never by more than seven points until the final minute, when it pulled away at the charity stripe.

The Cougars (12-10, 4-2) are all even with Citrus, which ranks No. 6 in the state’s California Community College Association Coaches poll.

This has come despite an 8-8 start for COC in non-conference play.

“We talked about taking care of the basketball and finishing plays and I think we’re starting to do that. They’re learning,” said Cougars head coach Howard Fisher of the team’s turnaround. “It’s taken them awhile, but they’ve learned.”

COC’s leading scorer Rafael Love came alive in the latter half of the game after a sub-par four points in the first half. He finished with 25 total boosted by a 15-for-19 day at the free-throw line.

It was also Love who began the runaway after a steal that led to his fastbreak layup, during which he drew a foul.

He converted the three-point play to put COC ahead 73-66 at the 1:25 mark.

A few defensive rebounds and free throws later, and the game was iced.

The Cougars outrebounded the Owls 37-25 in the contest.

“We knew we were going to be out-manned height-wise almost every game,” Love said of the rebounding. “That’s just toughness.”

Initially, COC was able to cling onto a modest lead due to the play of its forward Wesley Bartole, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

The Owls (18-4, 4-2) came out of the gate in attack mode on both ends of the court, but Bartole often found himself wide open in the low post.

“We knew they were going to be aggressive. We knew they were going to be physical,” Bartole said. “They’re a good team. ... We were just making good passes. Not just throwing it up and hoping it’s going to get there.”

Bartole scored 15 of his points in the first half, which helped the Cougars open up a 39-34 lead at the break.

The game plan didn’t change for COC, even when Citrus went on a 7-1 run to take a short-lived 63-60 lead with nine minutes to play.

The Owls tried to extend their lead by forcing the issue and getting to the line, but they converted just 50 percent of their 38 free-throw attempts.

It was Citrus’ second conference loss in its last three games, while the Cougars have now won four of five.

“I know they weren’t expecting to roll over us, but I know they weren’t expecting us to beat them either,” Bartole said.


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