The Orion

Wildcats on the prowl for playoff glory

Julie Ortega

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The Chico State men's basketball team's starting five players huddle up prior to a play in a game against Cal State L.A. on Jan. 30. Photo credit: Caio Calado

In its 100th season, the Chico State men’s basketball team has made the NCAA Championship Tournament for the fourth time in a row.

The Wildcats’ success this season has set the team’s bar high for expectations. Before clinching a spot in the playoffs, the team went on a 10-game winning streak — one of the longest since 2003.

The team’s focus on defending has translated into winning games, said Greg Clink, head coach.

On Friday, the Wildcats won their first semifinal game against Cal State Stanislaus, 72-60. Sophomore guard Robert Duncan led the team with 23 points.

The team faced Cal Poly Pomona the next day and was defeated in overtime, 57-62.

It was the fourth time in a row that Chico State lost the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Tournament. Duncan was the top scorer of the night with 20 points.

The ‘Cats could get the chance to play against Cal Poly Pomona again in this week’s NCAA Tournament West Regional. Cal Poly Pomona is ranked No. 6 and Chico State entered No. 5 in the West.

Three graduating seniors will be leaving the team this spring, but they are leaving behind a name for themselves. They are the first class in the history of the program to reach the NCAA Championship four times in a row.

With this being their last season playing, Jordan Barton, Mike Rosaroso and Jordan Semple all have one goal in common — to win.

“I want to win it all,” Rosaroso said.

Semple leads the team defensively with the most blocked shots and rebounds in the program’s history and is the only senior on the team who will have made four consecutive trips to the championship.

Taking over Semple’s position will be first-year forward Isaiah Ellis, who is currently averaging 5.7 points per game.

Ellis will have big shoes to fill, as he is expected to step in and play up to Semple’s defensive level.

One of the key returners for next season is Duncan, who has been averaging 20 points per game, while shooting 55 percent from the field.

Making it to the playoffs has been a huge accomplishment for him, Duncan said.

“It would be great to make it back to (Indiana),” he said. “(To be) the National Champion would be like a cherry on top.”

Duncan will be replacing senior guard Rosaroso for the upcoming fall season.

This season, Rosaroso led the WIldcats with a career best of 15 points. As a graduating senior, he wants to end his career as a winner.

Rosaroso’s motto for playing is taking it one game at a time and letting everything play out for itself, he said.

“(Clink) always tells us that if we play defense for 40 minutes, everything will take care of itself,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We still have a long way to go.”

Junior center Tanner Giddings, standing 6 feet 10 inches tall, transferred from Fresno State this past year. Coming to Chico State, he had his mind set on reaching the NCAA Tournament and winning, he said.

In the fall, Giddings will come in as a senior and will potentially be taking over for Barton, the third athlete who will be graduating.

Last season, Barton led the team in field goal percentage and is currently ranked second on the team for 26 offensive rebounds in his final season.

Defensively, the team has done a great job, but there’s not enough pressure when it comes to playing offense, Clink said. He will have to prepare his team the same way he has been, if not better, to win the championship.

Clink wants to focus on strengthening offense, he said. The team lacks consistency and has room for improvement.

Every week the team tries to find one or two things that they need to get better at and focus on it, Clink said.

The quality of the defense is what matters, Duncan said. The emphasis is not so much on offense because the team has players who can make shots.

“We’re going to continue to try improve defensively,” Clink said. “We’re going to try to continue to improve offensively in terms of executing offense and taking great shots.”

Julie Ortega can be reached at [email protected] or @julieOrtega_ on Twitter.

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Wildcats on the prowl for playoff glory