Just when the Cuesta College men’s basketball team was getting into the game, Oscar Pedroso was getting out of it. It seemed like one just couldn’t be in synch with the other.
Pedroso scored a team-high 18 points, but the Cougars didn’t make an earnest run at Los Angeles Pierce until the freshman guard from Portugal fouled out with less than five minutes to go in Cuesta’s Western State Conference-North home opener Wednesday.
The Brahmas (13-6, 2-0 WSCN) made a double-digit lead last long enough in an 80-76 victory that the Cougars (14-9, 1-1 WSCN) got to within three points in the final minutes but no closer.
“It took us 32 minutes to realize we were playing basketball and we weren’t at a fair or a movie or something else,” Cuesta head coach Rusty Blair said, “because we were spectators. We had to be active participants.”
Pierce had its biggest lead at 61-48 with 8:48 left when Pedroso began to spearhead a comeback effort. Constantly attacking the basket, the 6-foot-4 guard went 9 of 11 from the free-throw line, and Cuesta cut the lead to eight with 6:31 left.
Less than two minutes later, Pedroso picked up his fifth foul trying to take a charge for the depleted Cougars, who are down to a 10-man roster because of season-ending injuries.
“We just have 10 guys on the team now and that last practice was not a good practice,” Pedroso said. “But I think everybody needs to be focused from the first minute to the last minute.”
Said Blair: “We lost a guy that’s going to try to take charges and get on the floor for loose balls. He’s our hustle go-to guy. He got three blocking calls that could have gone either way that didn’t go our way, and we missed that intensity,
Cuesta point guard Kenny Robinson scored 16 points to help continue cutting into the Pierce lead, and Pedroso’s replacement, sophomore guard Jeremy Landenbergue, scored all 16 of his points in the second half. Sophomore forward Plamen Hristov had 15 points and five rebounds.
Down the stretch either Robinson or Landenbergue took his man to the basket one-on-one, and the offensive strategy worked, but each time the Cougars got to within three, the Brahmas got a score or drew a foul.
Terrel Funches scored a game-high 19 points, Donte Williams and Codye Hatcher scored 14 apiece, and
Andre Smith had 10 for Pierce. Hatcher added a game-high nine rebounds as the Brahmas dominated on the glass.
“When we looked up at the score and thought we were about to lose,” Robinson said, “that’s when we picked it up. We can’t do that anymore.”
Cuesta led 23-22 midway through the first half, but Pierce ended the half on an 18-7 run. The Brahmas grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and finished the game with a 33-23 overall advantage on the boards. It took eight minutes for the Cougars to get their second rebound of the first half.
The game was a matchup of two of the top hopefuls in the conference. The Brahmas came in ranked No. 15 in the state and beat conference front-runner Ventura 84-78 in their conference opener.
The Cougars showed they could compete with Pierce but are now a game behind Pierce and first-place Allan Hancock, which comes to San Luis Obispo next Wednesday.
Before the rivalry game with the Bulldogs, however, the Cougars will travel to Santa Barbara City on Saturday.
Robinson appeared to be slowed by a foot injury in the final minutes, which gave Blair visions of a stress fracture that kept his sophomore leader out for five weeks already this season.
Robinson has been back for just a week, but the injury wasn’t an aggravation of the fracture. It wasn’t even the same foot. Robinson said he sprained his right ankle and should have no problem playing in the next game.
“That’s a game we’re looking forward to,” Robinson said of Hancock, “but we can’t overlook Santa Barbara.”