Cal State men have momentum after 2-0 showing in Las Vegas

The Cal State San Bernardino men’s basketball team looked impressive in its two games at the Great Western Shootout in Las Vegas last week. The Coyotes (9-1) defeated Central Washington, 83-60, and Western Washington, 71-65, to improve to 4-0 against teams from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference

That could loom large down the stretch because the California Collegiate Athletic Association, GNAC and Pacific West conferences all are battling for the same spots in the Division II West Regional come March. More impressive is the fact that all four victories came on a neutral court.

“That is going to help us down the road but we still have to take care of business in the conference,” coach Jeff Oliver said. “The conference is very deep this year. There aren’t going to be any easy games.”

Oliver saw a huge bright spot in each of the games. Central Washington went in averaging 92.8 points per game and were held to 60 by the Coyotes’ “monster” defense. The Wildcats managed only that many because Oliver emptied his bench early.

Then against Western Washington, the Coyotes bounced back from a 13-point, first-half deficit to pull out the game in the last two minutes.

“We showed a lot of character and really kept our composure down the stretch,” Oliver said. “Our guys made the plays in the end when they had to.”

Six of the Coyotes’ nine victories and 7 of 10 games have come against teams with a winning record. Cal State’s seven above-.500 foes have a combined 38-15 record, and two teams have lost only to the Coyotes.

The team’s balance is paying off as six different players have led the Coyotes in scoring in the 10 games. Senior guard Lance Ortiz leads Cal State (13.4 points per game) but is followed closely by senior center Michael Earl (12.4 ppg) and senior backcourt mate Marlon Pierce (10.2 ppg). Ortiz and Pierce are the only Coyotes to have started all 10 games.

Earl leads the CCAA in field-goal percentage (.703) and blocked shots (30); Ortiz leads in steals (28), is second in assists (5.40 pg) and third in free-throw percentage (.875).

The Coyotes will return to action Jan. 4-5, hosting games back-to-back nights against Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Dominguez Hills, bottom-tier teams in the past which had great recruiting classes and are expected to contend this season.

After that, the Coyotes will play 8 of 10 on the road.