Inland Empire Invitational Championship, what does it mean?

Baseline League boys basketball rivals Etiwanda and Rancho Cucamonga played in the championship game of the Inland Empire Invitational on Saturday night. Etiwanda rallied in the second half to post a 67-59 victory at Miller High School.

What is the significance of this game?

In the end, it gives Etiwanda bragging rights, but the Eagles have already had that. Etiwanda has gone 47-3 in league the last five years, winning five straight outright league titles.

The teams meet for the first time Jan. 18 at Etiwanda and again Feb. 5 at Rancho Cucamonga.

Both teams will look a little different.

Etiwanda’s star junior guard, Jordan McLaughlin missed the end of the tournament, after spraining his ankle. He could be back playing in a game as soon as next Saturday, so that will change Etiwanda’s look. On paper, Etiwanda will be much better.

Rancho Cucamonga coach Bill Burke said he has two key players who should be back, one who has been out with an injury.

In many cases, both teams will look very much the same. Etiwanda will play its pressure defense and half-court game, while Rancho Cucamonga will try and push the pace more.

One thing that Burke hopes can make a difference is his team’s size.

“We haven’t had the guys in recent years that could match up with them inside,” Burke said. “We have that now.”

The Cougars have four players 6-foot-4 or better who played on Saturday, including 6-9 sophomore Jordan Naughtan. Naughtan is a force defensively inside and he blocked at least three shots Saturday, even though he is not much of a force yet offensively (one point). The Cougars could have even more size a month from now.

But don’t think of this as a two-horse race in the Baseline League necessarily. Upland, Glendora and Los Osos are also off to good starts this season. Etiwanda has done a better job than anyone else in league of avoiding bad losses. So it will be interesting to see where each team is record-wise when they play each other for the fourth game in league.

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