After winning its own tournament title for the first time since 2000 last season, the Cuesta College men’s basketball team lost hold of it again Sunday.
The championship plaque did, however, leave San Luis Obispo with a son of the Cougars family.
Freshman 6-foot-7 forward Ross Rivera scored 25 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead College of the Sequoias to an 89-76 win at Cuesta, earning MVP honors along the way.
A graduate of El Diamante High in Visalia, Rivera is the son of Arroyo Grande High alumnus Chico Rivera, who also played at Cuesta and Cal Poly from 1982 to 1996.
“My dad played here, my uncles played here,” said Ross Rivera, who’s also the grandson of former Cal Poly head men’s basketball coach Ernie Wheeler. “It’s cool to win this tournament.”
Rivera hit a series of shots early in the second half to help the Giants (3-0) pull away from the Cougars (2-1), who continually left him open on similar pick-and-fade sets.
The Cougars went into the half trailing just 36-32, but within the first 5 minutes of the second, Rivera hit four open jump shots, including two three pointers, and drove the lane for another score to get 12 quick points all on his own.
“That’s the difference in the game,” said Cuesta head coach Rusty Blair, whose team topped COS by two points to win the Rabobank Tournament last season. “One play, five times, five knockdowns. It was the difference in the game. We addressed it every time it happened and got no response.”
Cuesta was led by Carroll College transfer Casey Rogers, who had 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting and dished out eight assists. Malte Kramer added 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting but was clearly harassed by COS after leading the Cougars in scoring in the first two tournament games.
Rogers and Kramer were both named to the all-tournament team, and former Righetti High standout Nick Sauer scored 11 points for Cuesta.
Giants center Rob Walters had 20 points and dominated the boards with a game-high 15 rebounds, 13 defensive.
Midway through the second half, Rogers drained a pull-up 3-pointer to cut the Giants’ lead to 60-54, but that’s as close as it would be.
COS pulled ahead 69-58 with 6:22 left, and despite Blair’s best efforts to lengthen the game in the final minutes, Rivera and the Giants were only able to increase their advantage.
“We’d score a bucket and they would score a bucket,” Rivera said. “But we won’t put our head down. We just kept playing hard.”
Though only a freshman, Rivera grayshirted last season and said he would be eligible to transfer to an NCAA Division I school after this season.
Despite his ties to Cal Poly and the county, he said the Mustangs’ Big West rival Pacific is leading in his recruitment.