By Mike Baca
The challenge was clear for the Chico State Wildcats men’s basketball team on Thursday night. Slow down that Humboldt State offense or pay the price. With a stingy defensive performance and domination on the boards, the Wildcats knocked off their rivals to the north 86-68 winning the first of at least two installments between the long-time antagonists.
From the outset the Wildcats made it clear that closing out on the Jacks potent three point shooters and face-guarding would be the order of the day. Aside from 6-to-7 minute stretch in the first half, the Cats executed Greg Clink’s defensive game plan perfectly. They challenged Lumberjack shooters, forcing them to beat the Cats off the dribble. Chico’s confidence in their back-side rotations was paramount in this strategy. They knew they would pay a price for these hard close-outs, but the result would be a contested two point shot rather than a wide open 22 footer, which Humboldt has been hitting with regularity.
The rebounding advantage for Chico State was one of the biggest surprises of the night. Chico decimated the Jacks on the boards, out-rebounding the hosts 45-21, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds which led to 25 2nd chance points.
Coming into the game Chico knew Rakim Brown, Malik Morgan and Thomas Witzel were major impediments. The Cats held Brown to 12 points, 8 below his season average. Morgan was forced into an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers and Witzel, a 43 percent three-point shooter, was only 1-for-6 from deep and scored only 11 points to go with 4 boards.
Chico’s offense clicked at a rhythm and pace that gave them every opportunity to get good shots. Despite 18 turnovers, Chico State displayed a discipline approach and was seeking not only good shots, but great shots all night. Coach Clink’s emphasis on being in constant search mode for good shots paid the ultimate dividends on Thursday. Robert Duncan scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Tanner Giddings dazzled again with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Isaiah Ellis scored 14 points and grabbed 6 boards.
It was complete performance by the Wildcats in one a season’s big games against a long-time rival. This certainly is not the time for Chico to feel too good about themselves though, awaiting the Cats on Saturday is perennial power and co-tenant of first place in the CCAA, the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Another in a series of big games in this 2015-2016 campaign.