For personal pride as much as anything, Oscar Pedroso wanted the title more than anybody.
He went home to Portugal in the offseason not just disappointed the Cuesta College men’s basketball team ended last year without a Western State Conference North championship. He was angry.
Though the reason the sophomore guard and rest of the Cougars captured at least a share of the title with Wednesday’s 86-64 win over Moorpark as emphatically as they did, head coach Rusty Blair said, is because Pedroso and others were able to put individual goals aside.
“It showed a lot of character from our players,” Blair said of the blowout victory. “I think it was positive thing where the players are really focusing on ‘it’s not about me, me, me; it’s about us, us, us.’ You saw that tonight.”
Pedroso was the perfect example. He poured in 19 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, to go with six rebounds, playing all but eight minutes. But even with the intense thirst for a title, only one of his baskets came in the second half.
The pressure was on. Since Wednesday’s game was Cuesta’s regular-season finale, the Cougars (21-9, 10-2 WSCN) knew they needed a victory to clinch at least a share of the conference crown.
Ventura can also grab a share of the title with a win over Moorpark (9-14, 5-6 WSCN) on Saturday, but regardless of that outcome, Wednesday’s Cuesta win and tiebreakers earned the Cougars the conference’s automatic playoff berth.
“We’re good under pressure,” Pedroso said. “We play good all the time. After we lose two games, we run five or six straight games.”
Early on, Cuesta appeared tight. Moorpark jumped out to a 13-6 lead, but the Cougars quickly came right back, tying the score at 13 with a pair of free throws by Alex Igual with 13:13 left in the half.
Cuesta pulled ahead 21-16 on a 3-pointer by Kyle Geer, and although Moorpark hung around for the next few minutes, the Cougars finished the half on a hot streak.
Mohamed Ali Ben Ammar drove for a tomahawk jam, Igual nailed a 3 from the corner, and Pedroso took and nailed a deep 3 at the urging of Igual to push the advantage to nine.
Moorpark coach Remy McCarthy hurt his team in the closing seconds of the first half with a technical foul that helped give Cuesta a 47-34 lead at the break.
Cuesta poured it on in the second half. A Geer dunk midway through the half gave the Cougars a 22-point lead that they pushed over 30 before emptying the bench in the final minutes.
Igual finished with 17 points, including three 3-pointers, Geer scored 13 and grabbed seven rebounds, Brett Hartshorne had 12 points and seven rebounds and Valentin Bauer had 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists for Cuesta.
Austin Howell, who had 13 points and six rebounds, was the lone Moorpark player to score double figures.
“We just pushed the ball,” Geer said. “Rebound, push the ball and play defense. That was the main agenda all week in practice. So, that’s what we did, just came out here and did that.”
Now, Cuesta turns its attention toward playoff seeding. Sixteen teams from Southern California will advance to the postseason. The Cougars were ranked 11th in the region in the latest poll coming into the game.
The win might not be enough to earn Cuesta a home game, but Blair said his team deserves one. The Cougars, he said, are much deeper than in years past.
“I can go nine or 10 deep and feel comfortable with that depth,” said Blair, who had three players play meaningful minutes off the bench, including Ben Ammar. “We create some problems for people.”
Cuesta 69, Moorpark 52
Katie Rodriguez scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, Miriam Zabinski had 19 points and nine rebounds, and the two sophomores led the Cougars (22-7, 7-5 WSCN) to victory in their season finale.
Cuesta, ranked 18th in the state, sits in fourth place in the conference with the likelihood of moving into a third-place tie after Saturday’s games.
The Cougars need Moorpark (16-11, 7-4 WSCN) to lose to No. 1 Ventura, but even if Cuesta remains in fourth, head coach Ron Barba said he was 99.9 percent confident his team will make the playoffs.
“It’s pretty hard to overlook us,” Barba said. “We went 22-7, we have a good RPI, strength of schedule.
“Our league, to me, is one of the best leagues in California. We have (four) teams with 15 wins or more in the conference. Nobody’s a slouch. Everybody had to be ready every game.”
Cuesta played without point guard Melissa Lemus, who Barba said was home sick with bronchitis.
The Cougars overcame 22 points and 21 rebounds by Moorpark center Miley Abraham, who shot 7 of 16 from the floor and 8 for 12 from the free-throw line.
Cuesta got 13 points from Jerrica Crosby.