By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FORTHE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It will be tough for the Bear Cubs men’s basketball team to top its first taste of home cooking this season as Santa Rosa won a wild one on Thursday night in the first round of the Kris Kringle Classic.
Playing its first game this season at Haehl Pavilion after 13 games on the road at four tournaments, Santa Rosa (10-4) sank 19 of 31 (61 percent) of its 3-point shots to defeat Hartnell of Salinas, 88-77, in a game that featured one beyond-the-arc shot after another draining the net. The teams combined for an eye-popping 28 of 49 from 3-point land. The Panthers (5-6) were 9 of 18 shooting treys, giving the Bear Cubs a 30-point advantage from the 3-point line.
“It was just a shootout. Both teams were on fire. It was unbelievable,” Santa Rosa coach Craig McMillan said. “I don’t know if I have ever seen any team anywhere shoot 19 for 31 (from 3-point range).”
The win advances the Bear Cubs to the championship bracket of the tournament. Santa Rosa will host Mendocino at 8 p.m. Friday in a semifinal.
“Mendocino is very athletic and a good scoring team,” McMillan said. “They are smaller and quicker and we are bigger and a little slower. It is a bad match-up for both teams.”
If Santa Rosa defeats Mendocino, it is likely the Bear Cubs will play Yuba in the championship at 8 p.m. Saturday. Yuba defeated Santa Rosa in the title game of last year’s tournament. Yuba plays American River in the other semifinal of the championship bracket today.
The Kris Kringle Classic features eight teams from around Northern California. The tournament started in 1978 and is one of the longest-running community college basketball tournaments in California.
The Bear Cubs defeated Hartnell earlier this season 56-54 in the Monterey Peninsula Tournament in a game that was a defensive struggle. The rematch was an entirely different animal.
“It was a good offensive battle, there weren’t a whole lot of stops on either side,” McMillan said of Thursday night’s game. “Against Mendocino we are going to have to tighten up on defense for sure and take care of the ball better.”
Coming into the contest, the Bear Cubs averaged nine 3-pointers a game on 40 percent accuracy. Against Hartnell, the Bear Cubs’ Max Fujii, the game’s leading scorer with 27 points, shot nine of 13 from beyond the arc.
“The hoop seemed pretty big tonight,” McMillan said. “As long as the 3’s kept falling, I was comfortable with what we were doing.”
Bobby Sharp added 13 points for the Bear Cubs, and Connor Gillett led Santa Rosa with six rebounds.
The Panthers were paced by Michael Salazar with 25 points and Kevin Baird with 17 points.
Santa Rosa won the rebounding battle 25-19 but was outshot at the free-throw line by a wide margin. Hartnell was 19 of 27 from the line while Santa Rosa was five of eight, a reflection of all the long-range shots the Bear Cubs chucked up.
Santa Rosa trailed by a few points early in the first half but held a 51-45 lead at halftime and extended its lead to 81-63 with five minutes to play before Hartnell sliced its final deficit to 11 points.
“After 13 games on the road, it was good to be back home,” McMillan said.