Since losing at Cal Poly Pomona by 13 points on Jan. 9, Chico State has won eight straight games and bolted to the top of the California Collegiate Athletic Association with a 14-2 conference record.
Chico State coach Greg Clink points to the diligent way the players come to practice each week and work hard on the things the coaches tell them they need to improve on.
“I really feel the reason we have been so successful and been on a winning streak is we come in every week and we take care of two or three things to get better at,” said Clink, who will be going for his 150th career win at Chico State on Friday. “The players buy into it. This has been one of the most enjoyable groups I have ever coached. It has been a joy to coach them. We are trying to make it last as long as we can.”
Chico State will find out just how far it has come in the last six weeks. No. 20-ranked Cal Poly Pomona, 19-5 overall and 12-5 in the CCAA, travels to No. 8 Chico State, 20-3 overall, in a game that will be televised on ESPN3 at 7:30 p.m. PT Friday. The women’s game will be televised at 5:30 p.m.
“We are definitely coming in with a chip on our shoulders,” said Chico State junior forward Robert Duncan, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds.
“We feel like we could have played a lot better. That is going to be a key for us, playing to the best of our ability and whatever happens, happens.”
One key for Chico State, Clink said, is to do a better job defensively on senior forward Jordan Faison. In the first game, Faison scored 24 points on 11 for 19 shooting, and he pulled down 10 rebounds.
“He is one of the best players in the region,” Clink said. “We need to improve in some areas to do a better job on him the second time around.”
The reason why Clink like this year’s team is because the Wildcats are serious about getting better and it is a group that is accustomed to winning.
A quick glance at the statistics reveals their success has come by playing an unselfish brand of basketball. Five players are averaging in double figures. Sophomore Corey Silverstrom is at 14.0, followed by sophomore Isaiah Ellis at 12.0, senior Tanner Giddings at 10.3 and sophomores Jalen McFerren at 10.2
“Our mantra,” Clink said, “is always just keep getting better each week. It is constant improvement just trying to get better.”
It’s another challenging week for the Wildcats. Last weekend, Chico State pulled out a 77-71 win at No. 6 UC San Diego and then won 91-79 in overtime at California State-San Bernardino.
Clink said his team didn’t have the focus necessary to win for part of the game at San Bernardino, but then turned it on, particularly in overtime.
“We don’t look at anybody that we play in our conference and chalk it up as an automatic win,” Clink said. “You have to bring it every night.”
The Wildcats know they will have to bring their best again. After Cal Poly Pomona, Chico State remains at home and will face Humboldt State, which is the Wildcats second-longest rivalry behind only San Francisco State.
Duncan joked that he is getting to old to play these games in back-to-back nights. In less than a second, he changed his tune.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Duncan said. “It is definitely a challenge. The league is pretty hard. I know every night I need to bring it. Just being a competitor, I love the challenge.”
No. 4 Lincoln Memorial plays at No. 6 Queens (N.C.)
Early Tuesday afternoon, Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) senior guard Gerel Simmons’ focus was on Mars Hill.
It would be easy for anybody who is a fan of NCAA Division II basketball to look one game beyond it. After all, No. 4 Lincoln Memorial plays at No. 6 Queens, 4 p.m. ET Saturday at the Levine Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It is probably the best match-up in Division II men’s basketball this weekend and certainly the most important game in the South Atlantic Conference. Both teams are 23-2 overall. At 19-0 in the SAC, Lincoln Memorial is in first. Queens is 17-2. Lincoln Memorial can wrap up the regular-season crown with a win.
A lot is at stake on Saturday, but Simmons’ mind was on Mars Hill on Tuesday. It has been that kind of focus from the Railsplitters that has helped them to a 40-1 conference mark in the last two seasons.
“We have to stay focused,” Simmons said. “One game at a time. We play Mars Hill on Wednesday before Queens. That is who we are focusing on now. We will start to focus on Queens on Thursday.
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“This year is one of the best years this conference has had. You have to bring it every day. You have to make sure you are working hard on your game and the team is working hard. You have to bring your best every game.”
Simmons, who is averaging over 20 points per game, scored 18 points in a 95-72 victory over Mars Hill.
Lincoln Memorial has won 13 straight games since a nonconference loss to Bellarmine on Jan. 2.
“We have been playing pretty well,” said Lincoln Memorial coach Josh Schertz. “We have performed at a pretty consistent level. This time of year it is about trying to get to the highest level possible and stay at that level as consistently as possible because once you get down to February and March, you will have to be at that level to reach your ultimate goal.”
The Railsplitters will face a stiff challenge on Saturday. Queens is riding a nine-game winning streak and is a perfect 12-0 at home.
“We have guys who are inspired going into hostile environments,” Schertz said. “The best teams like it when it is toughest and our guys have kind of borne that out the last couple of years.”
In his eighth season at Lincoln Memorial, Schertz has guided the Railsplitters to a 193-46 record. He has built his program primarily by bringing in high school players. The current roster only has two transfers, which includes Simmons. But Simmons sat out one season because of transfer rules and is now in his third year at Lincoln Memorial.
“One of the things that has been true over the last few years is guys have been able to elevate their games when the opportunity arises,” Schertz said. “Internal improvement has been the driving force behind the sustained success.
“You look at a guy like Gerel Simmons who was our sixth man last year and had a great year, but he jumps up to average 20 points per game.”
Another example of yearly improvement Schertz pointed to is junior Luquon Choice, who was first team all region last year and has vastly improved this year, posting career-high numbers across the board.
“Dorian Pinson, as a freshman, was a solid piece for us,” Schertz said. “He leads us as a sophomore in rebounding, assists and steals. Curtis McMillion, a fifth-year senior, is having a career year in every category.
“The consistency has come from guys that have really been committed to improving and getting better. They have done that each year.”
It adds up to another season that has the Railsplitters bound for the NCAA Division II Tournament. They are seeking their sixth straight trip. Last year’s team advanced to the Southeast Regional semifinals.
“It is definitely a lot of fun,” Simmons said of this season. “There is not a whole lot of time left. I’m definitely trying to enjoy every minute of it. Everything is fun about it, from practice to the games. It has been a lot of fun.”
American Sports Network DII game of the week
The St Thomas Aquinas College men’s basketball team, 21-4 overall, will put its 15-game winning streak on the line when it travels to the University of the District of Columbia and face the Firebirds at 5 p.m. ET Sunday. The women’s game will air first at 3 p.m. on the American Sports Network.