MANTECA — Kiwi Gardner was not in uniform for Manteca High's 55-42 victory over Oakdale on Tuesday, just as the high-scoring guard will be nowhere in sight tonight when the Buffaloes play at Lathrop, or Friday when they play host to Weston Ranch.
After after that, no one yet knows when Gardner — averaging 27.4 points and arguably the most talented player in the Stanislaus District — will return to action.
That decision is up to the Sac-Joaquin Section, which could suspend Gardner for anywhere between one game and the rest of his high school career for making contact with an official during a game at last week's Modesto Christian tournament.
In that game, a 68-57 loss to Inglewood, Gardner was called for a technical foul with 43.7 seconds left after questioning a foul call on a steal attempt. After the technical was whistled, he followed the official toward the scorer's table, and lightly brushed up against him.
At that point, a second technical foul was whistled and Gardner was disqualified.
Here's how Manteca coach David Asuncion saw the play:
"There was a call made, and Kiwi said "Stop bailing him out," and the official asked Kiwi "Are you talking to me?" Kiwi said "Yes, ref," and that's when the official turned and hit Kiwi with the technical," Asuncion said.
"Kiwi kept walking toward the ref and he could have avoided him, and Kiwi brushed up against the back of the ref. The ref didn't like the contact and he ejects Kiwi. It was justified, the ejection. I still disagree with the first technical."
The section requested game film from Manteca, Inglewood and anyone else with a camera in its effort to determine whether Gardner intended to cause harm to the official when he made contact.
Intent to harm will be the key to the ruling, per the wording of the applicable CIF bylaw, which states: "Any student who physically assaults the person of a game (referee, umpire or any other official assigned to interpret or enforce rules of competition) shall be banned from interscholastic athletics for the remainder of the student's eligibility."
Even if the section does not rule Gardner acted with intent to harm, it could hit the junior with a lesser penalty as it sees fit.
"We're still waiting to hear from the CIF," Asuncion said. "Our school took action and suspended him for three days — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, so he'll miss the next two games. Then we'll take it from there. Being there and seeing what happened I don't see how the CIF can justify banning him."
After sitting out one game because of the disqualification, Gardner did not start the Dec. 30 game against Turlock. Upon entering the game, he made a celebratory reaction after blocking a shot and was hit with a technical foul by the same officiating crew that worked Manteca's game against Inglewood.
That quick technical in his return begs the question: when and if Gardner does return, will his reputation cause him to be targeted by officials?
"I wouldn't say he's being targeted," Asuncion said. "But he's made the bed and he had to sleep in it. Kiwi did bring this upon himself, but he's really improved. As a freshman, he was way too much about talking and getting in the refs' faces, and he's pulled it back.
"But I think it does carry over. The officials are human and if someone yells at you you're going to get back at them."
A long-time section basketball official, who spoke only on terms of anonymity, said he's aware of players with reputations and make an attempt to work with them during games to cut off such behavior.
"I don't look for things," the official said. "I approach each game individually. So if I know a player has a problem, I also know that I'll have to say something to him every game. Once I say something and the player is fine, there's no trouble. If the player doesn't respond after we've talked, then I have to take action.
"I never take an issue from a game that happened last week into the next game."
But when Gardner picked up the quick technical foul in the Turlock game, it appeared to many in the gym as if it may have been caused by Gardner's reputation more than the action.
"You don't want to take away a kid's competitive edge, but he has to understand that he has this reputation and that the refs will be looking for these things," Asuncion said.
In the meantime, the Buffaloes had to face at least three Valley Oak League games without their leading scorer and floor leader.
On Tuesday, the Buffaloes (8-4) jumped to a 14-2 lead in the opening five minutes against Oakdale (3-6,) then never found an offensive rhythm when the visiting Mustangs switched from a zone defense to a man-to-man.
Oakdale, which managed to trade baskets with Manteca the rest of the way, never would have considered playing a man-to-man with Gardner on the floor.
"We just want to execute and get more of a rhythm, to have more people involved in the offense," said senior guard Ernie Pimentel, who had 17 points against Oakdale. In Gardner's absence, Pimentel will have to pick up more of the ballhandling and scoring load.
"We just have to learn to play without him," Pimentel said. "I'm just looking for my teammates, and at the same time I'm looking for them to help me out and take some of the pressure off me. When you take the best player away from us, we're obviously short-handed, but we're staying focused in practice and we're trying to work harder without him."
Manteca could find out the end date of Gardner's absence as early as today, and Asuncion is assuming his star will be back in the lineup before too long.
"We expect him back, and in the meantime we have players who will step up and accept the challenge," Asuncion said. "We still have a good team without him — a different team, but still a good one, so we'll see how these next three-to-five games go."
AMADOR 43, ESCALON 36 — at Escalon, the Buffaloes have bolted to a 12-2 start this season, the best among all area small schools, but has largely remained a secret since none of its first 13 games came against teams from the Stanislaus District.
The Buffaloes not only changed that Tuesday night, but left an impression on another strong small schools team.
Amador made four straight defensive stops at the end of the game to pull out to the final margin of victory against the Cougars. Travis Glock paced Amador with 11 points, while Tyler Schuurman led all scorers with 17 for Escalon (8-6.)
RIPON 52, LINDEN 45 — at Ripon, the Indians (6-8,) toughened by a run through the Modesto Christian tournament, continued to tune-up for Trans-Valley League play as Matt Ratto scored 23 points in a victory over the Lions (6-5.) Aaron Judge, one of the area's top low post players, finished with 14 points, but had only four in the first half as Ripon jumped to a 28-23 halftime lead.
RIPON CHRISTIAN 61, CALAVERAS 45 — at Ripon Christian, the Knights (10-2) continued their strong inside-outside balance with center Tyler Goslinga scoring 25 points and Logan Vos hitting two 3-pointers en route to 18 points. Devin White led the Redskins (11-5) with 18 points, but Calaveras was held to 16 points in the second half.
MODESTO CHRISTIAN 106, BRET HARTE 80 — at Modesto Christian, the Crusaders (4-6) put five players in double figures, led by Ryan Riner's 21 points, and 13 players contributed to the scoring. Matt Brechtel led the Bullfrogs (6-6) with 22 points.
SUMMERVILLE 51, HUGHSON 47 — at Hughson, the Bears (5-7) jumped out to a 17-5 first-quarter lead, forcing the Huskies (1-9) to play catch-up the rest of the way. Chris Pimentel had all of his 21 points from behind the arc for Hughson, while Zach Roberson scored 18 for Summerville.
SIERRA 47, SONORA 36 — at Sonora, the Timberwolves opened VOL play with a victory in one of the region's toughest gym by outscoring the Wildcats 17-4 in the final quarter. Trevor Nogueira led Sierra (8-4 overall) with 12 points, and Jerrod Patton and William Ward added 10 points apiece. Zach Gorgas led Sonora (6-6) with eight points, all from the line.
CERES 75, EAST UNION 64 — at Ceres, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 38-17 halftime lead and cruised to the VOL win behind balanced scoring. Justin Canatsy had 18, Lance Hunter 17 and Katero Lebeau 15 for Ceres (7-5,) while Ricky Inderbitzin led all scorers with 21 for the Lancers (5-6.)
CENTRAL CATHOLIC 70, GUSTINE 30 — Dusty Killian took over the offensive boards for the Raiders, scoring 20 points and leading them to the lopsided victory in a Western Athletic Conference opener.
MARIPOSA 60, DENAIR 58 — at Mariposa, the Grizzlies (10-3, 1-0 SL) took control in their Southern League opener with a 23-12 first quarter, but the Coyotes (7-6, 1-1) climbed back within two points in the fourth quarter. Cody Wichmann had 25 points for Mariposa, while Parker Shaddix hit four 3-pointers and finished with 17 for the Grizzlies. Clayton McDonald led Denair with 14 points.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.