Chico State men’s basketball hot start continues with win over Sonoma

CHICO — The Chico State men’s basketball team is off to its best start since the 1942-43 season when the Wildcats began the season with 10 straight wins.

Chico State has now started its season 8-0 (4-0 California Collegiate Athletic Association) in 2021 after an 81-61 win against Sonoma State on Saturday at Acker Gymnasium in Chico. The Wildcats are now one of 11 unbeaten men’s basketball teams remaining in the nation and rank in the top-10 in both the Division II Sports Information Directors of America Media poll as well the National Association of Basketball Coaches poll.

The 3-and-D strategy is one that the ‘Cats have relied on in 2021 — particularly in the last six games played. Seniors Isaiah Brooks and Malik Duffy have led the way from beyond the arch, including Saturday night.

Brooks shot just 1-8 from beyond the 3-point line in his first two games of the regular season, and since his 1-5 performance in game two against Seattle Pacific, the senior from Sacramento has shot 17-25 from beyond the arc in his next six games. In Chico State’s 99-90 win against Cal State San Bernardino on Dec. 2 Brooks shot 6-6 from deep. Duffy shot 3-4 from the 3-point line against the Cougars.

Brooks said this season a change in the ball and an extension of the 3-point line gave him struggles in the early part of the season. He went to his coaches and they kept encouraging him and and told him to keep getting reps up in the gym.

“I’ve been getting shots up in practice, 150-200 makes a day and now I’m seeing the benefits of it so it’s good,” Brooks said.

The senior forward Duffy has been consistent all year long from deep. He has hit three or more from deep in 5-of-7 games this season.

Duffy scored Chico’s first basket on a deep 3-pointer. Halfway through the first half, with 11:04 to go, Brooks made back-to-back corner 3s to give Chico a 21-14 lead. Brooks made one more three before Duffy made another deep 3-pointer as Chico State’s lead held at 27-21. Duffy made two more 3-pointers before the end of the half, and Brooks and Duffy both finished 4-6 from the 3-point line in the opening half as Chico State took a 38-27 lead into halftime.

At the end of the game, Brooks shot four 3s and Duffy made a season-high five. Duffy finished with 19 points and collected 12 rebounds, and Brooks finished with 17 points.

The 3-point shooting didn’t just come from Brooks and Duffy. Kevin Warren made 5-8 from the 3-point line and 8-14 from the field. Warren finished with a team-high 23 points for Chico State.

With 11:40 left in the second quarter, Warren stepped forward with the ball, stepped back and drilled his third 3-pointer of the game.

Clink said Chico State’s shot selection in Saturday’s game was great. The Wildcats finished the game with a 51% field goal percentage and 50% from beyond the three-point line.

“I thought early on in the first half maybe we were casting them a little too early without really playing inside out but we were getting good looks,” Clink said. “I didn’t think they dropped at a high enough clip early in the half but we stuck with it we kept creating shots for each other….In order to break the zone that they run you’re going to have to hit 3’s and create inside out looks and try to spread things out.”

Chico State’s team defense has played put them near the top in several different national rankings. The Wildcats were fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal defense ahead of Saturday, allowing teams just 25.6 percent. Saturday, the ‘Cats limited the Seawolves to just 23.5% from beyond the 3-point line.

Chico State was allowing 62.3 points per game ahead of Saturday and as a team had four blocks per game. In Saturday’s game Chico State forward Kelvin Wright had five blocks which was a career high for the sophomore. He is now averaging two blocks per game.

Clink complimented Wright’s rotations from the weak side on defense and said on 3-4 separate occasions it put him in a good situation for blocked shots.

“Every year we’re about defense and we pride ourselves on the defensive end,” Clink said. “We don’t set a lot of goals for ourselves but we do talk about having the best defense in the West Region and if we can do that and offensively take great shots and be unselfish good things are going to happen.”

Chico State (8-0, 4-0 CCAA) will return to Acker Gym at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to face off against Humboldt State in Chico.

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