Rams claim CCCAA Men's Basketball Championship with 91-66 win over West Valley

2022 CCCAA State Champions (Photo courtesy CCCMBCA)
2022 CCCAA State Champions (Photo courtesy CCCMBCA)

- Story/photo courtesy CCCMBCA/CCCAA

LEMOORE — Every facet of the game was on display in the finals of the 2022 CCCAA men's basketball championship tournament at West Hills-Lemoore College.

Especially, emotions.

Eventually, San Francisco City's offense overtook West Valley's stringent defense, allowing the Rams to capture the 2022 CCCAA State Men's Basketball Championship, 91-66. The championship was the fourth for San Francisco City coach Justin Labagh who wrapped up his 18th year with the win. He becomes the second California community college men's basketball coach to win four state championships. He joins Hall of Fame and former Riverside City and Pasadena City coach Jerry Tarkanian with four state title.

"It is nice to be in the same sentence with his name," Labagh said in a post-game interview with BAOSN.tv. "I got two assistants when we started this 18 years ago and we just wanted to take City College of San Francisco and make it the best program in the state. That was our goal, and after today I think we can say we accomplished it after 18 years."

The victory avenged San Francisco City's only loss of the season. In the two teams' only meeting, West Valley edged the Rams, 73-70, on November 19. The victory was the Rams' 28th consecutive victory.

The all-Coast Conference final was a slugfest with a lot of emotion on display. The game featured five technical fouls and flagrant fouls. Defense was on display early as the teams combined for just 17 points in the first six-and-half minutes. San Francisco City (32-1) went scoreless for the first three-and-a-half minutes.

But once the Rams got unpenned it became all about offense. Despite their opening struggles, the Rams managed to shoot 47 percent from the floor (16 of 34), 64 percent from the three-point line (6 of 13) and the Rams were a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line.

Known as a defensive team, West Valley (28-4) used defense to stay close. After falling behind 13-4, the Vikings' defense secured several stops and forced a series of turnovers, turning them into a 20-10 run, giving the Vikings a 24-23 lead.

But it wouldn't last. San Francisco City, the state's top-ranked team, outscored West Valley 25 to 11 over the final seven minutes, taking a 48-35 halftime lead.

It looked like the Rams were going to run away from the Vikings early in the second half as San Francisco opened an 18-point. But West Valley battled to remain within striking distance. With 10:39 remaining, the Vikings cut the Rams' lead to 10 points as Jacquez Walker got a kind bounce on a three-pointer as the shot clock expired.

And when San Francisco City lost two starters — Seyi Reiley and Julian Vaughns  — to fouls it with nine minutes remaining it appeared the door remained open. However, West Valley couldn't capitalize. The Vikings never got the lead under 10 minutes.

And that was to the credit of San Francisco City's bench. The Rams' bench outscored West Valley, 48 to 11. San Francisco City also benefited from a strong inside game. The Rams scored 40 of its 91 points in the key. West Valley was also outrebounded, 43 to 32.

"This was tough (today)," Labagh said. "Two years ago, we had our best team we ever had at City. We were 30-0 and beating everybody by 40 points. But we had to sit (outside the gym) in vans (after being told the championship tournament was cancelled because of COVID). So, to come back here and win it is (just) unbelievable."

San Francisco City's Naseem Gaskin, one of three players of the year, was named the tournament's MVP. He scored 20 points in the championship game and grabbed 14 rebounds. Teammates Reiley and Vaughns were also selected by the tournament committee. Although, both fouled out they were instrumental in the Rams run through the post-season. Reiley, who played just 15 minutes, finished with 5 points, 4 rebounds. Vaughns, who played 13 minutes, finished with 8 points and 2 rebounds and an assist.

West Valley had two players — Ben Baker and Quinn Denker – selected to the all-tournament team. Denker finished with 14 points and 5 assists and Baker had 12 rebounds and 9 points. Roy Clarke of West LA and Seth Dawson of Sequoias were also selected.