Wildcats drive past Pacific Union in final non-conference matchup

Wildcats drive past Pacific Union in final non-conference matchup

CHICO — Chico State entered Tuesday’s matchup against winless Pacific Union allowing just 59 points per game in the Wildcats’ three non-conference wins to open the season.

After struggling in the opening half, Chico State’s defense locked down in the second half, allowing 26 points as the Wildcats (4-0) defeated Pacific Union (0-5) 87-65 in Acker Gym.

The game was the final non-conference tuneup for the Wildcats before they begin California Collegiate Athletic Association play against Stanislaus State on Saturday.

“I keep talking with these guys about getting better and improving. I didn’t think the defense like I said in the first half was great but I thought we were better with that in the second half,” said Chico State coach Greg Clink. “I thought our offense got better tonight. So to me it’s just constant improvement.”

The Wildcats had five double-digit scorers, led by 22 points by guard Kevin Warren. Joshua Hamilton and Colby Orr had 11 points each. Kelvin Wright and Malik Duffy had 10 each.

Rebounding was key for Chico in the first half and throughout the game, as the Wildcats out-rebounded the Pioneers 43-23. Warren had seven rebounds, including four offensive rebounds, and Columbia Community College transfer Kaleb Carter had six points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. Carter was 3-of-4 on field goals. Wright and Duffy had six rebounds each.

Clink complimented Carter’s minutes off the bench and pointed out how Carter continues to improve.

Entering the game Chico State had allowed just 59 points per game, but the Wildcats allowed 36 points in the first half. Clink said that at the start he felt his team did not come out with the urgency it needed to, but responded well in the second half. He said players were not playing good team defense.

“You have to give them credit. They had a couple guys that were really dynamic offensively and were both feeling it at different times, but our response in terms of defense in the second half was much better,” Clink said.

Defense around the perimeter on 3-point attempts was where the Wildcats struggled in the first half. Pacific Union’s Jordan Lopez converted on 3-of-3 attempts from beyond the arch and Victor Wariso and Kyle Durham had one each. In the second half the Wildcats’ defense got better. Pacific Union converted 3-of-12 after opening 5-of-13. Lopez converted on a deep three to open the second half and finished with four 3’s and 19 points.

“They hit some remarkable shots, I think that put us on our heels,” Clink said.

Chico State men’s basketball guard Isaiah Brooks defends against Pacific Union’s Jordan Lopez in the first half of the game on Tuesday, November 23, 2021 in Chico, California. (Justin Couchot/Enterprise-Record)

Isaiah Brooks, who defended Lopez from the start, was vocal during timeouts, reminding teammates that the game lasts 40 minutes and the team’s defense can always shine and for players to do their best.

In the second half, Wright and Carter each had three blocks, Evan Oliver had two steals. As a team the Wildcats had four more steals in the second half and six additional blocks.

After the teams were tied at 15-15, Chico State’s offense begin to click. Chico State took its biggest first-half lead at nine points with 2 minutes and 23 seconds left in the first half. Chico went on a 10-0 scoring run with seven minutes after halftime, and in the second half the Wildcats led by 23 with 2:41 until the final buzzer.

Clink said his team has been working a lot on its offensive execution, and said screens by Wright and Duffy set up good shot selection Tuesday. Clink was not pleased with the 14 turnovers.

“In terms of our offensive execution I thought we were better tonight than we were the last time we played and that’s the goal is to get better every game,” Clink said.

Chico State entered Tuesday as No. 1 ranked team in Division II Sports Information Director of America West Region Media Poll, the first time being atop the rankings since Dec. 18, 2017. The Wildcats rank No. 12 in the Division II national rankings released on Tuesday and are one-of-five unbeaten teams in the CCAA entering conference play.

Chico State will take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday before traveling to Stanislaus State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Turlock. Stanislaus State has won two straight after opening the season with back-to-back losses.

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