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Fast Start by Toros Has Rekindled Memories of 22-9 Team of 1986-87

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a defense that is ranked among the leaders in NCAA Division II and a balanced offense that features four players scoring in double figures, it’s no wonder the Cal State Dominguez Hills basketball team is off to its best start in six seasons.

“They seem to be better earlier in the year than they probably have been in the past,” said La Verne Coach Gary Stewert, whose team lost to the Toros, 84-46.

“We’ve played them the last three years and when we played them this year they looked like they were in January. Most teams look like they’re in December when you play them in December. They look like they’re a little bit ahead.”

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The Toros’ 7-2 record has been accomplished against some strong competition. Dominguez Hills has victories against Bridgeport, last season’s Division II runner-up, and Biola, which reached the quarterfinal round of last season’s National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament.

Dominguez Hills’ losses are against two of the nation’s top three Division II teams. Second-ranked Central Oklahoma beat the Toros, 123-100, in the Grand Canyon tournament in November and third-ranked Missouri Western defeated Dominguez Hills, 71-68, in the Cal State Bakersfield tournament in December.

Since the loss to Central Oklahoma, the Toros are giving up only 57 points a game.

“Our defense is pretty good, especially in the last four or five games,” Dominguez Hills Coach Dave Yanai said. “It’s gotten better and better. Teams are having a difficult time finding scoring opportunities.”

Said junior forward Darnell Patterson: “We’re doing a lot of good things, but defense is definitely our strength. We just put pressure on the ball and detain our man.”

Dominguez Hills is on pace to improve last season’s 16-12 record and has a shot at the best record in school history. In the 1986-87 season, the Toros started 10-2 and finished 22-9.

Dominguez Hills went on to the Division II playoffs and lost, 68-64, in double overtime to top-ranked Alaska Anchorage.

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How does this season’s team compare to the 1986-87 squad?

“They’re different types of teams,” Yanai said. “The 1987 team had a lot of talent inside and good balance outside. It was also a smart team. This team is very athletic in the guard area. It has good athleticism in the backcourt. Inside we’re not as quick or athletic as in ‘87, but we have more power and more bulk and size inside.”

In Yanai’s 16 seasons as coach, Dominguez Hills’ trademark has been defense. Although Yanai insists defense is a major part of his game plan, offense is playing a greater role in recent seasons.

At this time last season, for example, the Toros didn’t have any players averaging in double figures.

“We’re scoring from more areas,” Yanai said. “We have pretty good balance with our inside and outside people. I’d rather have that balance because it’s more difficult to defend.”

Senior forward Vince Washington believes the biggest difference on this season’s team is offense.

“This year we have more talent and a more balanced attack,” Washington said. “In past years we had no real good inside game, no real big man. This year we have that. We’re strong outside and inside.”

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Washington believes Dominguez Hills’ nonconference success will help it in California Collegiate Athletic Assn. play, which begins Thursday against Cal Poly Pomona in Carson.

“The CCAA is a real tough league and it’s going to give us a lot of confidence to go in with a good record,” Washington said. “Usually we don’t have a good record coming into conference. This is going to help us.”

The league’s top four teams compete in a postseason tournament and the winner gets an automatic berth into the Division II playoffs.

“We certainly feel like we’re going to be right there in the thick of things,” Yanai said. “I think that Bridgeport and Missouri Western are clubs comparable to teams we’re going to see in our league. There’s going to be a lot of gifted athletes this year.”

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