It's all hands on deck for Merced College basketball

slynch@mercedsun-star.comJanuary 8, 2013 

Allen Huddleston has had to get creative with his practices.

More bodies occupy the walls around Don Reid Court than are playing on the court itself.

Injuries have decimated the Merced College women's basketball roster for the second straight year, preventing them from being able to go 5-on-5 in practice for the last month. With three players nursing ailments on Tuesday morning, Huddleston was forced to make do with just six healthy players.

It's become a way of life for the Lady Devils (8-8). And, remarkably, they've done well in the face of such adversity.

"You don't even think about it anymore," freshman center Sonji Green said. "We know we don't have anyone coming off of the bench, so you need to play hard and smart.

"Coach does a good job getting us breaks with timeouts. We don't really need to do endurance training anymore, because you never really leave the court in practice."

Green has been a big part of MC's success. Huddleston said she's as good a post player the school has had in the last decade, with untapped potential.

She's shown it this season, averaging a team-best 14.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Jasmin Barnett (2.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game) has been solid running the point and swingman Rogenee Russell (8.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has become a reliable second scorer.

"I think our defense has been our saving grace," said Huddleston, whose team is allowing a league-low 44.5 points per game. "It's not easy to play high-intensity defense and stay out of foul trouble, and our girls have been able to do it.

"They've bought in to what we've asked them to do, especially with our help defense, and the results have been great."

The trio hopes to keep improving as MC turns its sights to Central Valley Conference play this week.

For years the CVC has been a two-horse race between MC and Fresno City College, against whom the Lady Devils open conference play tonight in Fresno.

But the rest of the pack has closed the gap the last three years. Taft, Reedley and Sequoias all pushed the Lady Devils a year ago, and could again. The conference expands to seven teams this year with West Hills adding a women's basketball program.

Fresno remains the class. The Rams (13-3) are ranked No. 1 in Northern California and No. 4 in the state. They haven't lost a CVC game since the 2006-07 season, running off 50 straight conference wins.

Expect FCC to be just as formidable this season, averaging a conference-best 75.7 points per game behind sophomore Madison Parrish (16.6 ppg) and Keyora Wharry (12.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg).

Sequoias (8-6) already has won more games than it did a season ago. COS is sound defensively, only allowing 52 point per game, and has four players averaging right around 10 per contest.

Taft (5-9) isn't what it was a year ago, but a big part of that is the loss of leading scorer Erica Jones (18.5 ppg) to injury.

Reedley (8-6) enters CVC play having won the Tom Martinez Invitational in San Mateo.

The Tigers have managed to put together a solid record despite averaging just about 47 points per game.

Porterville (3-9) has struggled, surrendering a league-worst 68 points per game while scoring just 46.

West Hills (3-10) just doesn't have a lot of offensive firepower in its first season, scoring just 43 ppg and shooting a league worst 31 percent from the field.

Merced College men

The Blue Devils haven't won a game of any kind in more than a calendar year.

MC's last win came Nov. 16, 2011 against Gavilan. The team is mired in a program-record 30-game losing streak and the CVC isn't likely to take pity.

"We weren't expecting to come out and set the world on fire," Russell said. "We're realistic about what we have and knew we were going to have some struggles, but I like the way this team works.

"They play hard and seem to be buying into the system. There's just no easy nights in the CVC."

Russell has endured a bit of misfortune this season, with two of his most athletic players likely lost for the season.

What remains is a team lacking size, athleticism and depth.

Freshman forward James Waters has been a nice find for the program, averaging 9.7 points and 8 rebounds per game despite often giving away height and weight advantages in the post.

Sophomore transfer Gurpreet Sangha (10.4 ppg) has been the team's most consistent threat from distance, knocking down a team-best 21 3-pointers.

Russell routinely has gotten good effort from his squad, but with the CVC again looking formidable, it could be a tough conference season for MC.

State No. 11 Sequoias (11-4) and No. 19 Fresno City (12-6) are once again the teams to beat.

The Giants have size and are shooting 40 percent beyond the arc.

The Rams aren't quite as offensively prolific as they were on last year's state championship squad, but Alex Perez (13.4 ppg) still leads a group of seven different players that are averaging at least 6 points each.

Freshman power forward De'Vonte Jenkins (14.2 ppg, 6 rpg) has paced West Hills (6-9) in a solid start.

Reedley (5-7) isn't quite the team it was a year ago, but has good size, experience and depth.

Columbia (5-9) is young and hasn't played with consistency, but has one of the best shooters in the league in Danny Radford (13.9 ppg).

Porterville (0-12) might be MC's best bet for a win. The Pirates are almost entirely freshmen and don't have overwhelming size inside.

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