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SRJC wins Kris Kringle Classic over Yuba

By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Connor Gillett had better make sure he drinks his pineapple juice before the rest of the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball teams games this season.

The 6-foot-6 power forward credited his pre-game ritual of drinking that beverage for helping him record a double-double — 17 points and 15 rebounds — in leading Santa Rosa to the Kris Kringle Classic title in a 71-59 victory over Yuba College at Haehl Pavilion on Saturday night.

“I just thought I had to attack hard because coach told me in my last two games I haven’t played up to my capability and today I played to my capability,” Gillett said.

Gillett insisted the pineapple juice was important to his performance.

“I think I just got in the right mindset, and I did my ritual — drunk the pineapple juice and I was all good in the game,” he said.

Bear Cubs coach Craig McMillan credited Gillett with being leading SRJCin the second half.

“Connor, especially in the second half, made all the plays. Made rebounds, buckets, steals and that was the difference,” McMillan said.

Gillett said he made the right adjustments when needed.

“Today I saw a lot of gaps, so I just attacked the gaps and when people collapsed to the lane, I just kicked it out to shooters and I was just ready for the rebounds,” Gillett said.

Santa Rosa (12-4) continued its hot streak from the perimeter right off the bat, with its first three field goals coming off from 3-pointers by Bobby Sharp, Max Fujii and Xavier McCall.

The Bear Cubs pulled out to an 11-4 lead, but Yuba chipped away at the Santa Rosa advantage. Fujii hit another 3-pointer later in the period to make it 17-11, but Yuba charged back with a 9-2 run to take a one-point lead.

The 49ers stretched their lead to four at 25-21, but a pair of free throws by McCall and a Fujii steal was followed by a lay-up that left the game at 25-25 at the half. Fujii led the team with eight first-half points and led the Bear Cubs with 19.

The teams exchanged leads to start the second half. A McCall free throw gave Santa Rosa a one-point lead for the first time since there were eight minutes to go in the first half. Yuba’s Akachi Okugo sank a 3 to put Yuba back in front but Sharp sank a 3-pointer to regain the lead for the Bear Cubs.

Darin Gayer’s basket with 13 minutes left in the regulation pushed the lead to six. Jajuan Hammond pushed the lead to eight with a little over nine minutes left and a Gillett put-back gave Santa Rosa its first double-digit lead of the contest. The Bear Cubs doubled their first half points with six minutes to go in the second.

Sharp hit back-to-back to 3-pointers to bump Santa Rosa’s lead to 12. Seconds later, a Gillett dunk and steal gave the Bear Cubs their biggest lead at 64-50.

“We were a little impatient with our shot selection in the first half, but we did a better job of letting the game come to us (in the second half),” McMillan said.

Yuba had Santa Rosa’s number in its past few matchups. The Bear Cubs lost three of their four games against Yuba last year, including the title game of last year’s Kris Kringle Classic.

McMillan said his team needed to play good defense and dominate the post to win the crown on Saturday.

In the third-place game, American River beat Mendocino College, 75-67. Los Medanos won the consolation game over Shasta, 65-53.