Yonemoto strengthens Bobcats

slynch@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 21, 2013 

CW UC Merced Mens Basketball

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT/cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.com UC Merced's Michael Yonemoto (24) goes for a layup during their game on Sunday (1-6-13) against La Sierra University at Gallo Gymnasium on the UCM campus.

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT

Few have benefited from UC Merced's midseason change in philosophy more than Michael Yonemoto.

With the Golden Bobcats men's basketball team off to an 0-14 start, head coach John Sykes switched to a more aggressive dribble-drive based offense.

Sykes felt the move catered to his team's skill set. It certainly has for his senior point guard.

A big part of UCM's early woes was a lack of secondary scoring to compliment leading scorer Aki Chambers (California Pacific Conference best 21.2 points per game).

Yonemoto, Martin Harris, George Idehen and Javon Barrino have helped fill the void as the Bobcats have rolled off six straight victories and won eight of their last 10.

Yonemoto has been as good as anyone during the run.

He's scoring almost two and a half points per game more and is dishing out two more assists per game.

His ability to take people to off of the dribble has been the difference, scoring in double digits six times in the last 14 games as opposed to just once in the first 16.

"I definitely think the change of offense has helped, but I think it has more to do with changing my mindset," Yonemoto said. "I wasn't real happy with my play to start the season.

"I think there came a point where Aki was the only scorer in double digits one night and we all looked at each other and knew we had to do more to help him out."

With Yonemoto basically playing for him since the founding of the UCM men's basketball club team, Sykes has particularly enjoyed watching his increased contribution.

"We chose an offense that we thought just gave us more options," Sykes said. "It's really worked for us, and more specifically it's really worked for Mike.

"Having had him for four years and gotten to watch the transition from club team to varsity has been really nice.

"As a coach you always like that comfort of knowing what you're going to get every night. And he brings that consistency and grit to every game.

"Teams, particularly 0-14 teams, can disappear really quickly. A lot of our league opponents gave us praise for holding it together until we could get something going.

"I think our four seniors and my assistant coach Kyle Mesa deserve a lot of the credit for that."

Yonemoto has accomplished pretty much everything he'd hoped to in his time with the Bobcats. The only thing left on the list is a Cal Pac title and a berth into the NAIA Division 2 Tournament.

The Bobcats (10-20) can move a step closer to that with a victory at Cal Maritime (22-6) tonight in a semifinal matchup.

The two schools split the regular-season series with both winning on its home courts.

The Keelhaulers are led by Keven Campbell (12.8 ppg) and Howie Manzo (10.8 ppg).

"Offensively, they are very disciplined and defensively they're tough," Sykes said. "You throw in the atmosphere of their small gym and they can be tough to beat there.

"For us it's just a matter of coming out and playing with energy. The guys are playing with a ton of confidence right now, which they should.

"We're playing some really good basketball and hopefully we can keep that going."

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