VALLEJO – It felt good for Rae Hubbard to step back into Cal State Maritime’s gym Thursday night.
It was this building, just over a year ago, where he had clinched Pacific Union College’s first-ever California Pacific Conference title, sinking a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer to dethrone the five-time defending champion Keelhaulers.
But that magic has worn off. Cal Maritime reasserted itself in this blossoming rivalry, beating PUC in the first of two matchups this season, 85-77, in a game in which the home team never trailed.
“It felt good (to come back),” Hubbard said. “The crowd ain’t forgot, and that’s what I like. The crowd was into it and I always love the crowd (energy) – most of our teammates love that, too. It’s just too bad we couldn’t get the job done.”
The Keelhaulers put on an offensive clinic, surpassing season averages in nearly every statistical category. They shot 53 percent from the field, hit 9 of 20 (45 percent) from 3-point range, and missed only one of their 17 free-throw attempts.
“We didn’t bring any energy tonight; played flat,” said Pioneers head coach Greg Rahn. “(We) probably played 12, 15 minutes of actual basketball tonight. All credit goes to them. They knew what this game meant after last year and they played like it. They wanted to win, they were on the floor, they played hard – just outworked us tonight, and we just coasted. You’re not going to get the job done that way.”
The loss snapped a four-game win streak for PUC (6-9 overall, 3-3 CalPac), the longest of the season for the NAIA program from Angwin. The Pioneers had reeled off three consecutive conference wins and downed UC Santa Cruz Monday in a nonconference game at Pacific Auditorium.
However, that sort of momentum was hard to come by against the Keelhaulers (13-7 overall, 4-2 CalPac), with a putrid start to the contest for PUC. One miss turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually reached 18 before they got on the scoreboard on a Brandon Franklin floater at the 11:14 mark of the first half. Cal Maritime had opened a 14-0 lead before that basket went through.
The Keelhaulers earned a 16-point advantage midway through the half, but after that, PUC started generating some offense and defending on the other end. The visitors rode a 23-11 wave over the next 10 minutes of play, closing the gap to 31-27 before a foul and the ensuing free throws stretched the halftime deficit to six.
After the break, the Keelhaulers went to work, expanding their lead back to 11 in just 51 seconds. They doubled that margin to 22 points over the next 7:11 of the game, continually breaking the Pioneers’ press for quality looks and limiting their shots with strong work on the defensive glass. Thirty-two of Cal Maritime’s 35 rebounds came on the defensive end.
Pacific Union made a late push, drawing within six points in the final minute of play. But Cal Maritime sank four three throws to preserve the lead and keep the Pioneers at arm’s length.
Compared to the victors, who exceeded their offensive averages, PUC struggled across the board, going 29 of 74 (39 percent) from the field and sinking only 4 of 21 attempts from 3-point range (19 percent).
For Rahn, though, the most troubling mark was the assist-to-turnover ratio. The Pioneers had three assists compared to 16 turnovers.
“You’re not going to win, especially against this team, with that kind of stat line,” he said. “And we weren’t shooting the ball well, and that was because of the shots we were taking – taking early ones instead of really getting into our offense. I tried to tell them, ‘Slow it down. Let’s get into our offense and get great shots, not just good ones or even contested ones,’ which we were doing too early. We broke away from that a little bit. I don’t know if that was, again, just being lazy and what not, but not a good showing for us tonight.”
Hubbard was the high-point man for PUC, finishing with 19 while hitting 7 of 8 free throws, and added five rebounds and two steals. Chris Camper, who was 2 of 5 from distance, had 15 points and four rebounds. Jeremiah Blandin and Franklin each scored 10.
Zavier Lucero turned in a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds and two assists for Cal Maritime. Phil Randles scored 17 points, finishing 7 of 11 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
The loss pushes the Pioneers to fourth in the CalPac standings, now two games behind Antelope Valley and UC Merced, who are both tied for first with a 5-1 record. The top four teams advance to the conference playoffs next month.
Pacific Union travels to Merced to face those very Bobcats on Saturday, hoping to erase the memory of Thursday’s defeat with a potential signature win over a top-three opponent before the second half of conference play starts next week.
As for the rematch with the Keelhaulers, PUC hosts Cal Maritime on senior night in Angwin, Feb. 17 – the final game of CalPac play.
“They had a great shooting night,” said Hubbard. “They had a great night – overall. I give them a lot of credit. We didn’t play our best game. But we’re going to see them again, so I’m not worried about it.”