Only one team stands between Southern California College and a trip to Kansas City for the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics championship basketball tournament.
But what a team and what a program.
The Vanguards (28-3) play Biola College tonight at 7:30 at Whittier College in the final of the NAIA District 3 playoffs. Not too big a chore, considering the Eagles have won the District 3 championship five times in the last nine years.
Although Biola has never won the national championship, it did reach the final in 1982 only to lose to the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg. The Eagles were 39-1 that season.
“We managed to make it to the finals (of the district playoffs) in 1982 and were annihilated by Biola,” Southern California Coach Bill Reynolds said. “They are definitely the team in our district that has the Kansas City-bound tradition.”
Maybe so, but Southern California is the district’s top-seeded team.
The Vanguards reached the final by routing Cal Baptist, 79-61, Saturday. The same night, Biola slipped past Westmont, 78-76.
“It’s a paradox, we’re the No. 1 team, but everyone is talking like Biola is the favorite,” Reynolds said. “I guess it’s the tradition people remember.”
People might also remember that the Vanguards have beaten Biola twice this season, including a 90-83 victory two weeks ago in a nonconference game at Southern California College.
A third victory would send Reynolds’ team to Kansas City for the 32-team national tournament, March 14-20.
Biola (28-5) has struggled with consistency and injuries throughout the season. In fact, the Eagles will have only seven players in uniform tonight as they will be without 6-foot-7 forward Todd Morrison and 6-8 1/2 center John Stiver.
Morrison tore cartilage in his knee on Friday, and against Westmont, Stiver reinjured an ankle that had already been operated on twice this year. Stiver was a starter and Morrison was the first forward off the bench.
But even without those two, the Eagles have plenty of size. Ed Johansen (6-9) starts at center with Paul Horn (6-7) and Kevin Hood (6-6) at forwards.
After 6-7 center Jeff Bickmore, the Vanguards’ next tallest starter is 6-2.
“This will definitely be a game of contrasting styles,” Reynolds said.