One could easily sense the excitement and buzz in the air with the chock-full stands inside the Santa Clara gym on Friday night before tipoff. A Santa Clara victory against Division-leading Gunn would have pulled the Bruins to within just one loss of the Titans. Santa Clara would have improved to 7-3, whereas Gunn would have fallen to 9-2. If that had happened, the route for Santa Clara to force a tie breaker would not have been all that far-fetched. Santa Clara has two games remaining, one each against Lynbrook and Monta Vista, while Gunn has just one game left against Saratoga.
Through the first two quarters, the Bruins hung tough against Gunn, only a buzzer-beating layup gave the Titans a slim two-point lead at half-time. Unfortunately for Santa Clara fans, the wheels would fall off in the third quarter, and Gunn would eventually cruise to a 66-53 victory to seal the El Camino League title.
“We started having trouble bringing the ball up against the press,” recalled Bruins’ senior center Jagos Jovanovic, who has been averaging a double-double this season. “They started pushing up against us and they are a momentum-based team so when they started getting steals, they got more hyped and got more into it.”
It also didn’t help the Bruins that the scorers table had the number of fouls on Jovanovic wrong. The Bruins’ biggest and strongest player sat out for a stretch in the third quarter with four fouls, but apparently he should have only had three.
“I picked up my third foul, but the board thought I had four fouls, so we had to sub me out for foul trouble,” acknowledged Jovanovic. “It’s pretty hard to watch from the bench at that point with all the offensive rebounds they were getting.”
Part of Jovanovic’s double-double is an average of 11.8 rebounds per game, more than double any of his other teammates. While Jovanovic was out, not only did the Bruins start to get into turnover trouble, but their smaller unit had no answers for the bigger Gunn players. After Bruins’ guard Jercey Paras hit his third three pointer to pull the Bruins back within one at 36-35, the Titans then proceeded to go on a 14-0 run.
“In the third quarter we had some consistency issues. It didn’t help that Jagos had picked up an early foul so we had to sub him out,” remarked Bruins Assistant Coach Justin Dixon. “At that point we were relying on a bunch more of our bench and a bunch of them are freshman. They will learn though and make their adjustments in the next games.”
Santa Clara will now try to close out their league schedule with an 8-4 record. The Bruins take on Monta Vista on Valentines Day before wrapping up the season on Friday at home against Lynbrook. The Vikings and Bruins are both currently 6-4 and the Vikings actually beat Santa Clara 43-32 on their home court back in the league opener on Jan. 3. It ought to be an exciting finish to the season as the Bruins will certainly be looking to atone for that earlier loss and finish in second place.