Saddleback, after surviving a physical first half, pulled away from Merced in the second half for a 71-50 victory in the quarterfinals of the state women's basketball tournament Thursday at San Jose College.
Each team had 20 turnovers in the first half, partly because the officials allowed a great deal of inside contact and the ball often was knocked loose. Saddleback was called for 10 fouls and Merced eight in the first half.
Both teams also played strong defense, led by Saddleback sophomore guard Maureen Skehan. She had eight steals in the half and finished with a Saddleback single-game record 11. She held the previous record of nine, which she accomplished three times. She also increased her Saddleback single-game steal record to 139.
"It was fast and intense out there," Skehan said. "Everybody was nervous and excited to play."
In the closing seconds of the first half, Skehan stole the ball and passed ahead to Bonnie Trejo for a layup to give Saddleback a 30-24 lead at the break.
Merced (27-5) got within one point twice early in the second half before Saddleback (30-0) pulled away.
The Gauchos, ranked second in the state, used a 10-2 run to open a 44-35 lead with 14 minutes 5 seconds left. Merced was never closer than eight the rest of the game.
"It was kind of brutal game in the first half," Saddleback Coach Jack Single said. "Their quickness surprised us quite a bit."
Cha-Ron Walker had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead Saddleback, which advances to play Solano at 4:30 p.m. today in one semifinal at the San Jose State Event Center.
Solano defeated Riverside, 70-53, Thursday.
In other quarterfinal games, Ventura beat Feather River, 103-45, and Sacramento beat Chaffey, 83-79. Ventura plays Sacramento at 2:30 p.m. today in the other semifinal.
The title game is 5 p.m. Saturday.
Skehan also had eight points and six assists and reserve Nekeda Allen added 14 points, 10 in the second half. Cheryl Dickson also scored 14, her season high, as she made all six shots she took from the field and both free throws.