Much to the irritation of Coach Paul Landreaux, El Camino College is one of those basketball teams that plays best when on the verge of losing.
Nothing, not even one of Landreaux's inspirational locker room speeches, motivates the Warriors better than the prospect of a defeat staring them in the face.
So what happened Saturday afternoon in the California Community College Tournament quarter-final game between El Camino and Sacramento City came as no surprise.
El Camino played lethargically until the final minutes, when it went on an 11-0 spurt to rally and defeat Sacramento City, 72-65, before a sparse crowd in Selland Arena.
The victory, El Camino's 21st in a row, advanced the Metropolitan Conference champion Warriors (31-1) to tonight's semifinal game against Long Beach. Sacramento City, runner-up from the Camino Norte Conference, ended the season 25-9.
El Camino looked all but finished when Sacramento City took a 57-47 lead with 10:18 remaining. But then the Warriors finally started to play like the team that is favored to win the tournament.
With Sacramento City ahead, 62-58, and a little more than four minutes left, El Camino, led by guards Mark Wade and Gregory Hill and forward Dwayne Lewis, scored 11 unanswered points to take a 69-62 advantage.
"I don't know what it is about this team," Landreaux said. "Only when we get in a situation when we're really in trouble do we stop relaxing and start playing aggressively.
"We've done exactly what we did today against other good teams about four or five times this season."
Besides being behind, El Camino also had to deal with mounting foul trouble in the second half. Forward Todd Porter fouled out with 17:34 remaining, center Dornell Jermany fouled out with 8:41 left and Hill and Lewis both finished with four fouls.
But El Camino was able to overcome that handicap and Sacramento City's lead with some help from the Panthers. As the game went on, Sacramento City began to lose both its stamina and composure.
Time and time again, when the tiring Panthers should have worked for a good shot and run some time off the clock, they opted to rush low-percentage shots. El Camino would get the rebound, turn the ball over to Wade, one of the best junior college playmakers in the state, and soon Sacramento City was behind.
El Camino led for most of the first half before Sacramento City took the lead for the first time at 21-19 with 5:05 left. George Blizzeard led the Panthers on an 8-2 spurt and Sacramento City led, 35-30, at halftime.
Hill, who made 11 of 17 field-goal attempts, led all scorers with 26 points, while Wade added 16 and Lewis and Roland Horvath had 12 apiece for El Camino. Kenneth Drummond had 16 to lead Sacramento City, while teammates Blizzeard and Lincoln Eden each had 15.
In other California Community College Tournament action:
Long Beach City 92, Taft 91 (OT)--Todd Irving made six free throws in overtime to help Metropolitan Conference runner-up Long Beach (30-6) eliminate Western State Conference champion Taft (30-6). The Vikings will play conference rival El Camino tonight in a semifinal game.
Long Beach took a 10-2 lead to start the game, but then Taft outscored the Vkings, 37-22, to take a 39-32 lead at halftime. Taft held the lead until 5:12 was left, and Long Beach's Derek Jones tied the score with a basket at 71-71.
Taft's Robert Jimerson led all scorers with 35 points, while Jones, following up his 41-point performance against City College of San Francisco Friday, had 34 for the Vkings. Stephen Hill added 26 for Long Beach.
San Jose City 69, Mt. San Antonio 50--San Jose City (27-7), the runner-up from the Golden Gate Conference, upset Mt. San Antonio (28-5), co-champion of the South Coast Conference.
The Mounties, known for their strong front line, were outrebounded by San Jose City, 31-19, and the second and third shots the Jaguars got helped them advance to tonight's semifinal game against Riverside City.
San Jose City's Arnell Jones scored a game-high 24 points and teammate Curtiss Bradley added 21. Only Ken Ramirez (15 points) scored in double figures for Mt. San Antonio. This was the first trip ever to the State Tournament for 26th-year Mountie Coach Gene Victor.
Riverside City 76, Butte 59--Julius Thomas scored 21 points and Wilson Foster had 20 to lead Riverside City (26-9), co-champion of the Inland Valley Conference, past Golden Valley Conference champion Butte (26-4).