By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
No. 7 College of the Canyons entered Thursday night’s game vs. visiting No. 10 Orange Coast College as postseason participants for the 25th time in program history. The Cougars women’s basketball team emerged with the program’s most important victory of the last decade, downing the Pirates 69-60 in dramatic fashion to advance to the next round of the California Community College Athletic Association SoCal Regional Playoffs.
Thursday’s win was the program’s first postseason victory since the 2010-11 season, a year in which head coach Greg Herrick guided the Cougars into the third round of the regional playoffs. The victory also pushed COC to the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
Canyons freshman LuLu Salloom, who was named the conference Player of the Year and an All-State First-Team selection earlier in the week, scored 14 points and pulled down nine boards in the second half after exiting the game near the nine-minute mark of the second quarter. Salloom had gone down on a play under the basket and initially had to be helped off the court. At the time Canyons trailed Orange Coast 21-15.
Danni Diaz entered the game to replace Salloom and immediately converted a layup off an offensive rebound.
On the next possession Diaz came away with a defensive rebound and quickly found Justice Walters on a long outlet pass for another quick score and bring the Cougars to within a basket at 21-19. On the other end it was Diaz again, this time credited with a block to complete a nice sequence for the sophomore that gave the Cougars a big spark.
“We knew with (LuLu) out it was going to be a challenge, but that just means you have to work a little harder,” said Diaz. “And that’s what we did, we came together, we played as one and it really worked out.”
With Saloom still on the bench, COC eventually retook the lead at 29-28 on back-to-back jump shots from Natalie Satamian and Monique Febles with 1:35 to go in the second quarter.
Orange Coast eventually took a 31-29 lead into halftime after freshman Annie Trinh’s three-pointer with under :12 to play.
Febles led Canyons with 10 points in the first half and Walters was next with nine.
Canyons returned with its starting five, including Salloom, to begin the third quarter and quickly got back into rhythm.
Salloom’s eight points in the quarter helped COC build a five-point advantage heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
“It was more of a mental thing,” said Salloom about returning to the game. “Once I scored my first basket I was good. I just had to get myself in the right mindset.”
Salloom, who is the 12th Western State Conference, South Player of the Year in program history, finished the game 7-of-13 from the field with 18 points and 12 rebounds, playing in her postseason debut.
Malia Semana waited until the fourth quarter to make her biggest impact, going 8-of-8 from the foul line to help keep the Cougars ahead in the final minutes.
Walters led all scorers with 19 points and had a game-high six assists, with three steals on the defensive end. Febles ended the night with 16 points.
“It just shows how much of a team we are,” said Salloom, about her teammates responded while she was out of the game. “Whenever you lose someone it’s important that (others) step up. They did and played amazing.”
COC was 12-of-13 from the foul line for the game and shot a combined 41.5 percent from the field. Canyons converted on just three shots from behind the arc, all coming off the hand of Walters.
Orange Coast was limited to a 36.1 percent shooting mark. The teams were closely matched off the glass with COC having a slight 42-38 rebounding advantage. The Cougars committed 13 turnovers compared to 15 for the Pirates.
Alexis Legan led the Pirates with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Trinh finished with 16 points and three assists. Savannah Seiler was the other Pirate to finish in double digits at 12 points to go with eight rebounds.
Canyons (20-7) now stands one win away from advancing to the CCCAA State Championship tournament.
“This win mean’s everything,” said Diaz, who joined the program as a redshirt freshman in 2018, competed the following year and then navigated through a cancelled COVID-19 season before retaking the court as a sophomore this season. “Hopefully this is just the beginning.”
“We just have to be focused,” said Salloom about the team’s demeanor heading into the next round. “It’s important to not let one win distract us from what we still want to accomplish.”
Canyons Top Performers
LuLu Salloom — 7-of-13, 18 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
Justice Walters — 8-of-16, 19 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Monique Febles — 8-of-17, 16 points, 3 rebounds, steal
Malia Semana —10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals
Danni Diaz — 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Canyons advanced to the next round of the CCCAA SoCal Regionals and will now travel to No. 2 Irvine Valley College (24-2) on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Irvine Valley was a 91-42 winner over Cerritos College in its regional playoff game on Thursday.
General admission tickets to all CCCAA postseason games are $12. Students/faculty/staff (with ID) from both schools, seniors over age 60 and children under 12 are $8.
As a reminder to all fans, masks and social distancing protocols will be in place at the IVC gymnasium for Saturday’s game.
In other scheduled playoff games around the region No. 6 East L.A. College travels to No. 3 Moorpark. No. 4 Palomar hosts No. 12 Cypress, and No. 1 Mt. SAC is set to receive No. 9 Long Beach City College.
The winners of Saturday’s respective contests advance to the CCCAA State Championship tournament hosted by West Hills Lemoore College in Lemoore, CA.
The top four remaining teams from both the North/South region will gather in Lemoore, with games set to get underway Thursday, March 10 in the tourney’s round of eight. Action continues with the final four teams squaring off on Saturday, March 12 and the championship game slated for Sunday afternoon.
Full brackets for both regions are available here.
Stay up to date on all this season’s action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube or visit COC Athletics here.
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