By Nick Giannandrea
The challenge continues for the College of the Sequoias men's basketball team.
One week after toppling three state-ranked teams en route to winning the Fullerton Tournament championship, the Giants are set to host a top-five team as part of the two-day Wyndham/Mannon Classic at Porter Field House.
Sequoias, which is ranked No.14 in the state by the California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches Association, is scheduled to play Los Angeles Trade Tech at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and state No. 3 Ventura at 2 p.m. Dec. 18.
"This is an exciting stretch for our guys," Giants coach Dallas Jensen said. "For our team, it's a great opportunity for growth and for them to find an identity and play against high level talent."
The Wyndham/Mannon Classic also features the marquee matchup of two of the state's three remaining undefeated teams in No. 4 Columbia (10-0) against Ventura (12-0) at 5 p.m. Dec. 17. Admission is $5 and facial coveringers are required inside Porter Field House.
Sequoias (8-2) enters its event opener as winners of three straight games. L.A. Trade Tech (1-10) has lost six in a row.
Jensen said his Giants can't be deceived by the Beavers' record or look past a team that has been battle-tested against several state-ranked teams.
"They have some athletes and have the ability to really score the basketball," Jensen said. "They play a loaded schedule and their record doesn't match who they are. They are a dangerous team. They will be a good test for us."
An even tougher test for Sequoias looms against Ventura, which has outscored opponents -- including four state-ranked teams -- by an average margin of 14.35 points per game.
"They always compete and play as hard as anyone in the state," Jensen said. "They are talented, play as a group, have great guard play and are very physical. There is a reason their record is what it is."
The Giants will be looking to build off their success from last weekend, when they defeated three top 15 teams in Fullerton.
Sequoias opened the eight-team tournament with a 70-66 victory over No. 5 West Los Angeles on Dec. 9 behind 22 points and seven rebounds from Bryce Fitzgerald (Las Vegas).
The Giants also received 12 points, six rebounds and two assists from Ryan Johnson (Hanford), 15 points from Seth Dawson (Antioch) and five points, 11 rebounds and four assists from Ryan Troutman (Kerman).
In the semifinals, Conner Jackson (Dublin) contributed 25 points, four rebounds and five assists as Sequoias rolled past No. 15 L.A. Southwest 89-74 on Dec. 10. Johnson had 18 points and four rebounds, Tiveon Stroud (Selma) had 11 points and three rebounds, and Terri Miller (Clovis North) added eight points, seven rebounds and three assists for the Giants.
Jackson had another big game as Sequoias steamrolled No. 7 San Diego City 83-65 in the championship, delivering 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists. The Giants also got 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists from Johnson, 18 points and nine rebounds from Scott Ator (Texas) and 10 points, five rebounds and four assists from Dawson.
"This team has so much depth and versatility," Jensen said. "It's taken some time to establish roles and identities. But over the last 10-14 days, we've taken some real significant strides in the right direction for how we want to play this season. And there is still so much room for growth with this team. When conference rolls around, I think this team has a chance to be really good."
After the Wyndham/Mannon Classic, Sequoias has one more nonconference event before Central Valley Conference play begins: the Clete Adelman Crossover on Dec. 30-31 at Mira Costa College in Oceanside.
The Giants open against host Mira Costa (4-7) at 6 p.m. Dec. 30, then face Antelope Valley (6-4) at noon Dec. 31.
Conference play begins Jan. 5, with Sequoias opening at West Hills-Coalinga (5-7) at 6 p.m.
The Giants first conference home game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 12 against Merced (2-8).
"Things are starting to click for us on both ends of the floor," Jensen said. "Our halfcourt defense has improved 10 fold over the last couple weeks, and we're starting to play better team defense. We're communicating on that end much better. We're also doing a great job rebounding. And on the other end, our offensive rhythm and flow has been better. We're sharing the basketball and playing inside out. I love the way we're sharing the basketball. That's a great sign of guys playing together and trusting their teammates."
Sequoias is averaging a state third-best 20.9 assists per game and have seven players -- Dawson (3.5), Jackson (3.4), Mohammed Adam (3.0), Ator (2.9), Troutman (2.3), Johnson (2.0) and Miller (2.0) averaging at least two assists per game individually.
The Giants also have five players -- Jackson (13.3), Johnson (11.7), Dawson (10.6), Fitzgerald (10.3) and Ator (10-2) -- averaging more than 10 points a game. Five others -- Troutman (6.0), Miller (5.5), Andre Treadwell (4.8), Adam (4.2) and Stroud (4.2) -- are averaging at least four points per game.
"We always talk about passing up good shots for great shots," Jensen said. "And that's really starting to register with these guys. Everyone is getting ample opportunities to shoot and put the ball on the deck."