By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Deft first half three-point shooting was the tonic for the second night in a row for the host Bear Cubs men’s basketball team at the 37th Annual Kris Kringle Classic.
Santa Rosa’s lights out long-distance baskets in the first 20 minutes paved the way for a 92-63 win over Mendocino College in a Friday night semi-final at Haehl Pavilion.
“We played about as well as a team can play in the first half tonight,” Santa Rosa coach Craig McMillan said. “Our guys have been doing a good job finding who has the hot hand and getting them the ball.”
Santa Rosa (11-4) advances to the championship game of the tournament Saturday night at 8 p.m. against nemesis Yuba, which defeated Santa Rosa in last year’s Kris Kringle title game and won three out of four meetings with the Bear Cubs last season. Yuba demolished American River 102-55 in Friday’s other championship bracket semi-final.
“Yuba is good and very talented. It will be a tough battle for us,” McMillan said. “To beat them we need to play good defense, keep the ball out of the paint (on Yuba possessions) and keep them off the boards.”
Mendocino (6-4) will play in the 3rd place game Saturday at 6 p.m. against American River.
“(Saturday) will be a character game for us against American River to see what we are made of,” Mendocino (6-4) coach Billy Offill said.
Santa Rosa followed its impressive 19-for-31 three-point shooting (12-for-16 in the first half) in Thursday night’s first round win against Hartnell with an eight-for-18 effort in three-point shooting in the first half against the Eagles. For the game Santa Rosa was 9 for 25 shooting three-pointers while Mendocino was 8 for 31.
Santa Rosa’s hot shooters were led by guard Bobby Sharp, who rang up 21 points with four 3-point baskets. Sharp, for good measure, even converted a 4-point play when fouled on a three-point bucket in the first half. Brian Johnson led the Bear Cubs in rebounds with eight.
“After watching Santa Rosa (Thursday night) we knew we were running into a really hot team.” Offill said. “That’s what makes Santa Rosa so tough because they have so many shooters.”
Mendocino was led by Kevin Charles with 26 points, the game’s top scorer.
The Eagles found themselves behind 26-11 with less than eight minutes gone and could never climb out of the early hole. Santa Rosa widened its lead to 40-15 with 7:06 to play in the first half after a Sharp 3-pointer.
“Sharp scored against us last year too,” Offill said. “If Sharp played Mendocino 30 times a year he would be playing at Duke.”
The Bear Cubs led 52-28 at halftime and quickly built their lead to 65-33 five minutes into the second half. McMillan emptied his bench with Santa Rosa leading by 30 points with 13:44 to play.
Mendocino, smaller but quicker than Santa Rosa, was unable to take advantage of its speed advantage and was hampered by mediocre floor shooting. The Bear Cubs were able to neutralize Mendocino’s athleticism with solid man-to-man defense. The Eagles never got their transition game in high gear and were left to run a sometimes ineffective half-court set on offense.
“I thought our team did a better job tonight on defense than Thursday night. We were more active and quicker defensively,” McMillan said. “Mendocino didn’t get their rhythm going tonight like they sometimes can.”
The Kris Kringle Classic features eight teams from around Northern California. The tournament started in the mid-1970s and is one of the longest running community college basketball tournaments in California.