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MANTECA’S LITTLE BIG MAN RETURNS

Gardner fires in 31 points to lead Buffs past Sierra

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MANTECA’S LITTLE BIG MAN RETURNS

Sierra's Allan Sampayan brings the ball down court in front of Manteca guard Kiwi Gardner in the first half of Wednesday's crosstown game at Sierra High.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED January 21, 2010 2:47 a.m.
People filled the stands in droves anxiously expecting another epic battle between the Manteca and Sierra High basketball squads, and neither squad disappointed during the Buffaloes’ 64-48 Valley Oak League win over the host Timberwolves.

Manteca was able to depend on the awesome talents of leading scorer Kiwi Gardner for the first time in VOL play, as the junior guard closed out the final scene in a drawn out five-game suspension that concluded with the Buffaloes’ 49-39 win over Central Valley Jan. 13.

Gardner took full advantage of the center stage, turning in a game-high 31 points including six 3-pointers and seven steals on the defensive end. The Buffaloes seemed at home with Gardner back in the lineup, but it did take a few futile trips up the court before things were back to normal.

“Our mindset in the second quarter was the same as when we opened the game,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “We wanted to execute on offense and get good looks as well as play solid defense and not give their shooters too many open looks.”

Both squads’ opened with a less than stellar first quarter, showing signs of awkward anxiousness that neither team normally displays. Manteca slipped out with a one-point lead, but full-court pressure and a pair of deep Gardner 3-pointers gave Manteca a definitive 34-19 advantage heading into halftime.

The Timberwolves (4-2, 11-6) chose not to let Manteca run off and embarrass them in their own gym, mounting a ferocious comeback by opening the second-half on a 7-0 run, cutting Manteca’s lead to eight.

Sierra wouldn’t let up, chopping the lead to a single basket with a Grant Widmer put-back with 1:22 remaining in the third.

“No matter what the score is, we’re going to fight for 32 minutes,” Sierra head coach Scott Thomason said. “That is just what we expect and what we’re going to do. That was our option at halftime, we could come out fighting like it was zero-zero, or we could lie down.

“I know our kids have too much character to give up like that and they kept on fighting.”

Once Sierra sliced the Buffaloes’ lead down to 43-41, Gardner showed why he is arguably the best player in the league. He nailed his fifth trey with just under a minute remaining in the third, before opening the fourth with a steal, layup and his final 3-pointer with four minutes to play.

It was evident Gardner was thrilled to be back on the hardwood, enjoying every minute he spent on the court and making an already talented Buffaloe squad even more dangerous.

“I was just trying to come back and pick up where I left off,” Gardner said of his return. “Before I got suspended we were rolling and with me having to sit out five games, that set us back. We had to get our step back in practice and in this game.  I was gone for five games, so this was big.”

Gardner’s deadly aim from beyond the arc, coupled with an inspired effort from post players Gerry Cooper, E.J. Godfrey and C.J. Rivas left Sierra squandering for effective ways to keep the Buffaloes off of the scoreboard. Copper finished in double-digits with 10, while Rivas and Ernie Pimentel added six and seven, respectively.

“We were able to move the ball around and feed the post,” Cooper said. “That is what coached stressed to us at practice, because that’s how we are going to win games. We know we have the scorers in Ernie and Kiwi, but the post is where it’s at.

“Going inside and then out is how you get the open shots.”

Trevor Nogueira did all he could do in the loss, leading Sierra with 19 points. Sophomore William Ward finished in double-digits with 10. Manteca will be back on the court Friday at the Dalben Center for a matchup with East Union, while the Timberwolves will have to get back on the right track with a strong showing in Stockton against Weston Ranch.

“We’re going to learn from this game,” Thomason said. “And be a better team from it on Friday.”
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