Cuesta has foiled the Hancock College men's basketball team's conference title aspirations again.
A last-ditch Bulldogs' rally fell short and the Cougars came away with a 74-70 win on a Friday night in which the current Hancock men's basketball team's sophomores and some prominent former Hancock athletes from the 1960s, including the 1963-64 men's basketball team that was a win away from winning the state tournament, were honored.
The sophomores were honored before the game. The former athletes from the 1960s era were honored at halftime.
As for this particular regular season finale Friday night, "They just made a few more plays than we did," Hancock coach Tyson Aye said after the Cougars (21-7, 8-2) clinched at least a share of the Western State Conference North Division championship.
Defending WSC North champion Ventura, Cuesta and Hancock were all 7-2 in the WSC North, with one conference game left for each.
After leading 72-64 with 1:59 to play Cuesta, which had been making clutch shots all night, suddenly left the door open for the Bulldogs. Alexander Fanchini's 3-point try went in-and-out and Jorge Bueno, aver maneuvering around Hancock defender Spirit Ricks, missed an open reverse layup.
JT Riddick scored inside with 26 seconds left to bring the Bulldogs within 72-70. However, Mike Mensah missed a 3-point try that would have put Hancock ahead had he made it then, after the ball went out-of-bounds and to the Bulldogs. Mensah, double teamed after taking the in-bounds pass from Ricks, threw up a wild 3-point try that hit the backboard and didn't draw iron.
The Bulldogs fouled Joshua Wilson-Murry with 1.6 seconds left, and Wilson-Murry hit both free throws to ice the win.
"Just two very good teams battling to the end," said Aye. Cuesta edged Hancock 69-66 at Cuesta the first time the teams played this year.
Though the result wasn't what the Bulldogs wanted, there was still reason to celebrate at Hancock Friday night.
Hancock (22-6, 7-3) will have to hope its overall record is good enough to land it an at-large berth in the playoffs. That's what the Bulldogs, as the second-place team behind Ventura, garnered last year, and Hancock wound up making it to the state tournament.
"I haven't even looked," at the various conference standings, said Aye. "I've been focusing on (the game Friday night)."
The playoff pairings will be announced Monday.
Cuesta got in as the third-place team last year. The Cougars beat the Bulldogs late in the season, denying Hancock a chance to catch Ventura.
Before the game, the Bulldogs figured they had to get out on the Cougars' very good outside shooters and stay away from making unforced turnovers. They did neither.
Besides, the Cougars were 17-for-21 on free throws to the Bulldogs' 9-for-13.
The Cougars, adept all night at making the extra pass, gave the Bulldogs a break by going 6-for-19 on 3-pointers in the first half. They didn't do the Bulldogs the same favor after the break, hitting seven of their 16 3-point tries.
"That's been our MO all year, making the extra pass and finding the open man," said Cuesta coach Rusty Blair.
"Our guys missed some open shots in the first half. They did a better job in the second half."
Blair said that the Bulldogs aided the Cougars by making some key turnovers.
Wilson-Murry knocked down seven of his 10 3-point tries en route to scoring a game high 27 points. Bueno was nearly as good from 3-point range, going 5-for-10 from there on his way to scoring 25 points. Starter Iker Cruz and reserve Dakota Saunders scored 10 points each for Cuesta.
Ricks led balanced Hancock scoring with 16 points. He was 6-for-8 from the field. Diego Lucas went five-for-eight from the floor en route to scoring 15 points for Hancock.
Point guard Glenn Jordan scored 14 points for the Bulldogs.
Hancock was 5-for-11 on 3s, the same mark it had the first time the teams played this year. Cuesta, meanwhile, 13-for-35 from beyond the arc.