State championship berth on the line in Ontario on Saturday
After La Costa Canyon edged Lincoln in the Division II section finals on March 2, the sentiment among both teams was that they would meet again in the state playoffs. That thought proved prophetic, as the Mavericks and Hornets navigated through the state tournament to set up a rematch in the Southern California Regional Finals on Saturday.
“I didn’t expect to see anyone but them in the state semifinals – they’re out for revenge and they wanted to see us again,” said La Costa Canyon senior guard David Travers. “We did our part, they did their part and now we have a great game.”
Though La Costa Canyon and Lincoln are both one game away from the state finals, their roads to Ontario couldn’t have been more different. La Costa Canyon (33-2) is enjoying its best season in school history, a record-setting campaign marked by unparalleled success.
“I’m just excited to get a chance to coach this group of guys again because it has been so much fun to coach them all season,” said La Costa Canyon head coach Dave Cassaw. “It’s been a special run, that’s for sure.”
For Lincoln (24-9), the 2011-12 season has been filled with challenges and adversity. The Hornets got off to a rocky start while playing a national schedule, suffered their first loss to a San Diego team in two seasons, and had their run of back-to-back section titles ended – but still found their way to a third consecutive regional final.
“We’ve had our bumps in the road and we didn’t win some games, but I think it benefits us in this part of the season because we’ve been in some tough games against great teams and we understand how to win based on the losses that we had,” said Lincoln head coach Jason Bryant.
The rematch between top-seeded La Costa Canyon and third-seeded Lincoln at Citizens Business Bank Arena on Saturday at 4 p.m. will be the second meeting in 15 days between the teams that finished atop the section. It marks the first time that two San Diego Section teams will meet to determine a spot in a state championship game.
“It’s great to be able to represent San Diego and to have another San Diego team to play against,” Bryant said. “It proves that San Diego basketball is serious and that we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
The highly anticipated first matchup at Jenny Craig Pavilion lived up to the hype, an overtime thriller that La Costa Canyon won 58-54. The high stakes rematch has just as much promise, if not more.
“I think that it’s going to live up to the hype and then some,” Travers said. “They’re going to come out fired up, we’re going to come out ready to respond and I think it’s going to be a battle from the start. It’s going to come down to who can make plays.”
Though the high-profile matchup on the court between leading scorers features La Costa Canyon’s San Diego State-bound senior forward Matt Shrigley and Lincoln junior guard Tyree Robinson, that might not have the biggest impact of the outcome of the game. Bryant believes the backcourt matchup between Travers and Lincoln senior guard Jerry Cobb will go a long way in determining the winner.
“I think it will be the point guard matchup – how we’re able to defend Travers, keep him out of the lane, and break up his rhythm in terms of controlling the game and quarterbacking his team as well as he did the first time,” Bryant said. “He was able to control tempo, he didn’t turn it over very much, and I think he was the key to their victory in the first game.”
The 6-foot-3 Cobb has a size advantage over the 6-foot Travers, and his return late in season made Lincoln a legitimate contender to win a second state title in three seasons. Travers, who is headed to Georgia State next season, looks forward to the challenge of facing Cobb for a second time.
“The past two state games actually benefited me a little bit because I’ve been guarded by bigger guards and physical guards just like (Cobb),” Travers said. “I have to protect the ball and not leave it out there, because with his long arms he can steal it.”
Both sides agree that a rematch favors Lincoln from a motivational standpoint. Since losing in the section finals, the Hornets have advanced through the state playoffs fueled by the prospect of getting another shot at La Costa Canyon.
“There’s no pressure on our end because we’re so focused on playing well against them and beating them the second time around, that playing in the environment and the magnitude of this game is really a non-issue – I don’t think anyone is star struck or nervous about the situation,” Bryant said.
For La Costa Canyon, a second meeting with Lincoln provides a sense of familiarity uncommon in the state playoffs. Travers said facing the Hornets again cancels out the potential apprehension that accompanies a game of this magnitude.
“To go up there and play a team that we have seen multiple times is really calming for us,” Travers said. “We aren’t going to go out there and get nervous because we’re playing a team that we’ve never faced before in a venue we’ve never played in before. To go up there and play a team we know – it evens it out.”
As La Costa Canyon and Lincoln focus on each other, the winner will get a chance to play for the Division II state championship on March 23 in Sacramento. Both teams have had state title aspirations since the beginning of the season, and one team will fall short of its ultimate objective.
“Our biggest goal now is to cap it off with a state championship – we want nothing else,” Travers said. “We’re trying to keep that record season going.”
“We’re focused and we understand what’s at stake – being able to right what happened in the CIF game,” Bryant said.
Whichever way the rematch between La Costa Canyon and Lincoln goes, it will be a victory for San Diego basketball. History will be made when the Mavericks and Hornets tip off in Ontario on Saturday afternoon.
“I think it’s really big to have this game, and hopefully we can keep it going in the future so it’s not just a one-time thing,” Cassaw said.
Pictured: Lincoln guard Jerry Cobb covered by La Costa Canyon guard David Travers in the Division II section finals on March 2. The Hornets and Mavericks will make history on Saturday by meeting in the Southern California Regional Finals