The faraway looks and soggy eyes said it all—this one hurt the deepest. On the cusp of advancing to the State Final Eight for the first time in program history, the Gavilan College men’s basketball team lost to Santa Rosa 68-66 in a California Community College NorCal Regional Final Saturday. The No. 3 seed Rams (27-3) lost in the same round a year ago, but this one had to be more painful because of the circumstances.
Gavilan was at home, having clinched a top 3 seed by virtue of its superior regular-season. Everything was set up for the Rams to advance to Ventura, the site of this year’s State Championships.
“It stings and they were obviously disappointed,” Rams coach Dallas Jensen said. “There were a lot of tears in that locker room.”
Gavilan’s terrific season looked as if it was going to continue after it came all the way back from 17 points down and had the ball in its hands with 7.6 seconds left and trailing by one point, 67-66. The Rams got one of the matchups they wanted—6-foot-7 forward Xander Bowers on a much smaller defender in an 1-on-1 isolated play situation near the right elbow area—only to see the Santa Rosa player draw a charge with 1.1 seconds left. Gavilan was forced to foul, Santa Rosa made one of two free throws and Patrick Fisher’s desperation heave from 67 feet clanged off the backboard at the buzzer.
“It was the right call by the refs, but that was tough,” Jensen said. “Knowing you fight back like that all the way to the end, you can’t help but be proud of your players. We just came up short.”
Ibn Zaid led Gavilan with 24 points, D.J. Burgess finished with 14 points and Bowers had 11 for the Rams, who simply had no answer for Santa Rosa’s Skylar Chavez in the first half. Chavez scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, which wasn’t a surprise considering Chavez is arguably the best player in Northern California.
Rather, it was Santa Rosa’s ability to shrink the court that made life tough on Gavilan for most of the contest and ultimately proved to be the difference in the outcome. The Bear Cubs were intent on packing the lane to neutralize Gavilan’s superior inside play, particularly Deion Ellis and Bowers. The duo combined for 44 points in a 78-69 win over American River in the opening round of the playoffs a week earlier, but save for a couple of thunderous dunks by Bowers, the two had little room to roam as every time they touched the ball Santa Rosa defenders converged on them.
“I still felt like we did OK offensively in the first half getting the looks we wanted,” Jensen said. “Unfortunately, it came down to shot making in the first half and when shots don’t fall after a while, sometimes that can carry over to the defensive end.”
Indeed, Santa Rosa scored 14 of its 39 first-half points off dribble-drives to the basket, and on the other end of the floor, even when Gavilan did score, the Rams had to work hard for every point. Zaid was sensational, as the sophomore guard went 9-for-13 from the field. Daylon Potts was tenacious defensively and on the boards, finishing with 17 rebounds and six assists. Patrick Fisher, the only Gavilan freshman who played significant minutes in the game, made a couple of key baskets to go along with five assists.
“Patrick Fisher is incredible,” Jensen said. “He’s got offers already after his freshman year, and obviously if he feels like the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be the first one to tell him to take it. I think he’s four-year ready. He’s the ultimate extension of a head coach on the floor and an old school point guard. He makes big shots, knows his personnel well and plays sound on the defensive end. I trust him as much as anybody I’ve ever coached in my career.”
Even in defeat, Jensen said he reminded his players of playing a sport that fits within the framework of their lives, and not being their entire identity.
“I told them about the bigger picture and succeeding in life, progressing, continuing the academics, and (eventually) becoming great husbands and fathers,” he said. “I love these kids probably more than they realize.”