College of the Sequoias men's basketball team has set the stage for a major state rankings shaker.
The No. 7 Giants (13-3, 2-0) are headed to Columbia on Jan. 19 to face the No. 2 Claim Jumpers (15-0, 1-0) in a Central Valley Conference clash of teams ranked among the top 10 in the state by the California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches' Association. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Columbia is the only unbeaten team among California's 101 men's basketball-playing community colleges.
"Where we're at, for us, honestly it's just another game," Giants coach Dallas Jensen said. "I tell the guys every game right now matters for conference and seeding criteria and postseason. Yes, is it a big game? Absolutely. And Columbia is as good as anyone in the state of California. But our whole emphasis all year is controlling what we can control and having a big focus on us and what we're doing. And that won't change this week."
Sequoias tuned up for the showdown by withstanding a second-half charge from Merced during an 82-72 victory over the Blue Devils on Jan. 17 at Porter Field House.
The Giants bolted out to a lead as large as 26 points in the first half only to watch Merced (2-12, 0-1) rally five points late in the game. The Blue Devils outscored Sequoias 47-40 in the second half after being down 42-25 at halftime.
"I thought in tonight's game. There were some good things and some bad things," Jensen said. "Our defensive intensity was really good early on in the game, and I thought it was extremely hit and miss in the second half. They got boiling and competed at a high level. Don't let their record deceive you. That's a good basketball team. I think (Blue Devils) coach (Allen) Huddleston is doing a great job. We need to be better. We'll be alright. There's just a lot to work on still."
Bryce Fitzgerald (Las Vegas) paced the Giants with 20 points and seven rebounds. Ryan Johnson (Hanford High) added 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and two steals.
Sequoias also received nine points from Andre Treadwell (Sacramento); eight points and eight rebounds from Conner Jackson (Dublin); eight points and four rebounds from Scott Ator (Murphy, Texas); seven points and six rebounds from Terri Miller (Clovis North); and four points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals from Seth Dawson (Antioch).
The Giants ended a 14-day layoff that followed the conclusion of their non-conference schedule with a 65-51 road victory over No. 21 Porterville (10-4, 1-1) during a CVC opener on Jan. 15.
Sequoias pulled away in the second half, outscoring the Pirates 32-18 after the team's were tied 33-33 at halftime.
Ator led the Giants with 12 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks.
Johnson contributed across the board with 14 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two assists, while Jackson added eight points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Sequoias also received 10 points and six rebounds from Tiveon Stroud (Selma); nine points, two rebounds, and two steals from Treadwell; and five points, five rebounds, five steals, and two assists from Ryan Troutman (Kerman).
In addition to Columbia, Sequoias, and Porterville, the Central Valley Conference also features No. 30 Fresno City (6-5, 0-0), West Hills-Coalinga (5-9, 0-0), Reedley (4-10, 0-0) and West Hills-Lemoore (6-7, 0-2). Only the Orange Empire Conference with No. 3 Fullerton, No. 4 Santiago Canyon, No. 17 Riverside, No. 22 Saddleback, and No. 28 Irvine Valley has more state-ranked teams than the CVC.
"The CVC is really talented again this year," Jensen said. "Columbia is the front runner right now, seeing as they're the only remaining undefeated team in the state. They are really talented and very well-coached.
"Porterville and Fresno are two other teams that will be very good throughout the conference. Both compete at a high level. I have been impressed with Lemoore this year, as well. They can score the ball and compete. Reedley, Coalinga, and Merced all present problems as well. They all have talent and depth. Top to bottom, I think our conference is very strong. I absolutely love that our guys get to compete at a high level on a nightly basis."
Sequoias prepared for CVC play by going 11-3 during its non-conference schedule, including games against state-ranked teams in No. 1 San Francisco (80-66 loss), No. 8 San Diego City (83-65 win), No. 9 West Los Angeles (70-66 win) and No. 16 L.A. Southwest (89-74 win).
"I'm really happy with the strides this team has made over the first couple months of the season," Jensen said. "I felt like we got better as the non-conference schedule went along. Our guys competed at a high level against some of the top programs in California. I'm hoping that will help as we move into conference play and eventually postseason. Our guys started to play together, played physical, were engaged on defense, and competed at a high level."
The Giants return home to Porter Field House to host Porterville at 3 p.m. Jan. 22.
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: COS set for huge basketball showdown vs. Columbia