By Mike Baca
Photo courtesy of Chico State Athletics
The challenge was clear for the Chico State Wildcats men’s basketball team on Thursday night. Slow down that Humboldt State offense or pay the price. With a stingy defensive performance and domination on the boards, the Wildcats knocked off their rivals to the north 86-68 winning the first of at least two installments between the long-time antagonists.
From the outset the Wildcats made it clear that closing out on the Jacks potent three-point shooters and face-guarding would be the order of the day. Aside from a 6-to-7 minute stretch in the first half, the Cats executed Greg Clink’s defensive game plan perfectly. They challenged Lumberjack shooters, forcing them to beat the Cats off the dribble. Chico’s confidence in their back-side rotations was paramount in this strategy. They knew they would pay a price for these hard close-outs, but the result would be a contested two point shot rather than a wide open 22 footer, which Humboldt has been hitting with regularity.
The rebounding advantage for Chico State was one of the biggest surprises of the night. Chico decimated the Jacks on the boards, out-rebounding the hosts 45-21, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds which led to 25 2nd chance points.
Chico is now 8-1 on the road this year.
Coming into the game Chico knew Rakim Brown, Malik Morgan and Thomas Witzel were major impediments. The Cats held Brown to 12 points, 8 below his season average. Morgan was forced into an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers and Witzel, a 43 percent three-point shooter, was only 1-for-6 from deep and scored only 11 points to go with 4 boards.
Chico’s offense clicked at a rhythm and pace that gave them every opportunity to get good shots. An emphasis for the Wildcats over the last few weeks was to not just take the first good shot they saw. Instead show the patience to get a great shot. Since a sub-par performance against Sonoma on Dec 19th the Wildcats had been grading their shots. They are now in constant search for Grad A shots. They are not going to settle for Grade C’s or even B’s. Head Coach Greg Clink is insisting on Grade A shots and Chico was nearly flawless in that department on Thursday night.
Despite 18 turnovers, Chico State displayed a disciplined approach that met Clink’s criteria. Robert Duncan scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Tanner Giddings dazzled again with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Isaiah Ellis scored 14 points and grabbed 6 boards. Drew Kitchens chipped in with 11.
It was as complete a performance by the Wildcats that we have seen all year in one of the biggest games against a long-time rival. This certainly is not the time for Chico toot their own horn. Awaiting the Cats on Saturday is perennial power and co-tenant of first place in the CCAA, the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Another in a series of big games in this 2015-2016 campaign.
Defense again will rule the day as the Broncos are the best team in the CCAA giving up only 60 points a game. Offensively things will not come as easily for Chico on Saturday night, but with one road scalp already in their pelts, they look to sweep the road-trip and get the 2016 calendar year started right.