With the start of conference play looming, the Cuesta College men’s basketball team can look at its failure rate this season and come to a conclusion.
“We’ve lost seven games,” sophomore swingman Oscar Pedroso said. “All the seven games we lost were in the last two minutes. We didn’t lose games by 20 or 10. All the games went to the final minute.
“We can beat everybody, but if we aren’t ready, we can lose to anybody. We’re not favorites. We’re not underrated. We’re not overrated. We’re going have to play pretty hard.”
It’s true. The Cougars (11-7) haven’t had a double-digit loss all year and played close twice against top-ranked Fresno City College.
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But they nearly had one of those last-minute games go awry Saturday night. After erasing a seven-point second-half deficit and holding on in a 52-50 victory over visiting Reedley College, head coach Rusty Blair is hoping for a wake-up call leading to Wednesday’s Western State Conference-North Division opener at home against Ventura.
“If we play like we’re capable of, we have an excellent chance to come out on top” in the conference, Blair said. “If we flounder like today against a Ventura or Hancock, we’re not going to win those games.”
Cuesta came into the game leading the WSCN shooting 46 percent from the field and averaging 14.7 assists as a team.
Numbers were lower across the board Saturday as the Cougars shot 40 percent and dished out 11 assists, and when Reedley’s Brian Ying finished a two-handed slam on the baseline to give the Tigers a 41-34 lead with 9:04 left, Cuesta was in the midst of its flounder.
But Pedroso, who had a game-high 17 points and five rebounds, and freshman guard Alex Igual helped spark a comeback to put the Cougars back ahead for good.
Igual, a former member of the Spanish junior national team, hit a 3-pointer and then came up with a steal to hit Pedroso on the fast break for a three-point play.
Igual hit a 3-pointer on the next Cuesta possession to complete an 11-2 run and give the Cougars a 45-43 lead with six minutes left.
Igual finished with 15 points, including four 3-pointers, four assists and four steals, and sophomore center Mohamed Ali Ben Ammar had eight points, a team-high six rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Freshman guard Alejandro Jorda hit a runner in the lane with 1:57 left to break a 50-50 tie, and Reedley point guard Walter Orr missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to end the game.
Orr finished with 16 points and accounted for 14 of the Tigers’ 22 first-half points as Cuesta went into the break trailing by two. Craig Simpson hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range to finish with 12 points, and Ying added 10.
“Tonight was like a step up by some players,” Igual said, “but definitely, we have to get everybody to go as a unit. I think we have a pretty good, talented team. The key is to be a unit.”
That’s one aspect Cuesta has improved on since the start of the season, when three projected starters opened the year on the injured list.
And the Cougars have some momentum going into conference play having now won three straight, their longest swing of the season, and four of the past five.
“We’ve come a long ways from the start,” Blair said. “We weren’t a team at the start of the year. We were just looking for minutes and who’s going to fill what role.”