Hector Nava believes his players are peaking.
Its no secret the Merced boys basketball team has had its share of shooting woes in the first half of Central California Conference play. But with over half the Bear roster also on the football team, Nava said it takes a little longer for their basketball legs to get under them.
Nava certainly seems to have a case. Merced has shot extremely well for the last week and a half, with the teams confidence visibly elevating. The teams hot hand continued on Wednesday night at Clemons Court as Merced rode Travante Richard (15 points) and A.J. Stewart (12) to an easy 58-36 victory over Pitman.
Its amazing what happens when you start knocking down a few shots, Nava said. Confidence does wonders for a team, and you can see everyone out there aggressive and ready to shoot.
I have to understand the makeup of my program. Were going to have a bunch of football players, and its going to take them a while to find their basketball touch again. Were at the point of the season where guys are starting to round into form.
It couldnt come at a better time for Merced (17-7, 5-2 CCC) with a big second-place showdown looming against Turlock at home on Friday. The winner will keep pace with first-place Golden Valley and remain in the title hunt, while the loser may have to settle for third.
Nava got the stress-free victory he was hoping for going into Friday.
Pitman (13-9, 2-5 CCC) opened the game with a 2-3 zone, inviting the Bears to fire at will from the outside. Merced obliged, putting up nine 3-point tries to just three shots from inside the arc in the opening quarter.
Unlike in previous contests, however, the Bears led by Richards seven points managed to knock down enough shots to not get burned by the strategy as the Pride led 13-12 at the end of one.
Merceds offense got back to attacking the basket in the second quarter. As usual, the Bear defense served as a catalyst. Pitman turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter, and a Jonathan Chairez 3 capped an 8-1 run to open it.
Merced was just getting started. Stewarts six points led the way as the Bears outscored the Pride 16-6 and went into intermission up 28-19.
We were ready to go tonight, said Richard, who also had six rebounds, four assists and three steals. We were hustling and our transition game is really starting to get better. A.J. and I are two pretty good athletes that can finish, so if we get a clean rebound, were looking to push the ball up the wings every time.
That run-and-gun mentality denied Pitman any chance to get back in the game after the break.
Merced hit its first four shots of the second half including five quick points within the first 30 seconds to break the game open with an 11-2 run. The Pride never challenged again the rest of the way.
I felt like we should have had a more comfortable lead at halftime, but we knew those first two of three minutes of the third quarter were going to be critical, Nava said. I think we had those five points right away and that really put them on their heels.
It was a nice win. We got to get everybody out there and hopefully we can carry some of this momentum over into Friday.
Brandon Blackwell, Chairez and Jermon Cook all finished with eight points in the win for Merced.
Alejandro Diaz scored seven of his nine points in the second half to lead Pitman.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or email@example.com.