It’s showdown time for the top men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Orange Empire Conference Wednesday night at Irvine Valley.
Both games match Fullerton and Irvine Valley with the women playing at 5:30 and the men at 7:30.
The men’s teams are tied for first place with 10-2 records and the winner clinches at least a tie for the conference title and will have a one-game lead with one left.
But a bigger prize is also on the line--the conference’s No. 1 berth in the Southern California playoffs. The conference winner is virtually assured of being seeded among the top eight of the 32-team field and get at least two home games.
Irvine Valley (23-7) has had a higher-profile season than Fullerton. The Lasers are ranked 12th in the state and sixth in Southern California.
Irvine Valley is led by Daryl Todd, a sophomore forward, who has been bothered by minor injuries to each hand but said recently he has learned to put it out of his mind. He is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds. J.C. Timmons, a sophomore guard, is averaging 12, and Brandon Hearvey, who often is overlooked because of Todd, averages 16 points and eight rebounds.
Fullerton is trying to pull off one of those “worst to first” deals. The Hornets were 0-14 in conference last season.
Fullerton moved into the polls last month and is 16th in the state and ninth in Southern California.
Fullerton (17-11) didn’t seem like much of a threat in nonconference games, going 7-9. Sophomore point guard Ty-Juan Berry (13 points, six assists) is among the best floor leaders in the conference and has directed the turnaround. Sterling Rachal, who was hurt much of last season, is healthy and performing well. He is averaging 14 points and and eight rebounds. Brian Montonati, a freshman forward, is getting attention from several Division I colleges. He is also averaging 14 points and eight rebounds.
Fullerton surprised many by winning the first meeting, 60-50. The key to that game was the strong inside defense played by Fullerton. Todd, who was guarded much of the time by freshman Ernie Burries, was limited to 11 points, and Hearvey scored only eight.
On the women’s side: Irvine Valley, in only its second year, has clinched a tie for first but can win the conference title outright with a victory over second-place Fullerton.
Irvine Valley (20-6, 7-1) is ranked seventh in the state and third in Southern California. Fullerton (17-10, 5-3) is 13th in Southern California but isn’t ranked among the state’s top 20.
Irvine Valley needed overtime to beat Fullerton, 83-79, in the first meeting. Heather Cunningham did the most damage for Irvine Valley, scoring 27.
Fullerton (75 points per game) and Irvine Valley (71) are the highest-scoring teams in the conference.