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Manteca sparked by 5-9 Gardners dunk
Manteca point guard Kiwi Gardner rises toward the rim for a dunk attempt in the first quarter. - photo by Photo by CHRIS LEONARD
Kiwi Gardner doesn’t have to score in bunches for Manteca High’s boys basketball team to win, and that was proven in the Buffaloes’ 77-68 victory Friday in front of a capacity crowd at crosstown rival East Union’s Dalben Center.

But Gardner himself had something to prove: The 5-foot-9 point guard can actually dunk in a game.

An internet sensation (see:, Gardner’s slick ball-handling skills and passing ability has captured the attention of hoops fans and college coaches alike.

The junior has achieved a lot in his two-plus years of varsity play, but he hadn’t thrown one down in a high school game until Friday night after missing several times on breakaway opportunities — including one in the first quarter.

But he made good on his next try with 2:10 left in the third when he slammed it home with a one-handed leaner on a fastbreak.

“I had to get that one down — I had to,” Gardner said. “I mean, it’s embarrassing getting hung all the time. I had to come out with more bounce.”

More importantly, Manteca picked up another big victory in Valley Oak League play in Gardner’s second game back from a five-game suspension for bumping into a referee during a non-league game.

The Buffaloes (13-5 overall) are in a first-place tie with Weston Ranch, which is responsible for their lone loss in league, at 6-1 and yet another big game against Sonora tonight at home to close out the first half of the conference season.

“You hope to carry the momentum coming off of two good games, but those games don’t matter going into the next one,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “But we do want to be playing well going into a tough match against Sonora, and the good news is that it’s at our place.”

Manteca’s complementary players contributed well while Gardner — who had 31 points and went 6-for-8 on 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 64-48 win over Sierra — struggled from the field.

He finished with 17 points and six assists and was oh-fer from the 3-point arc, but he was one of four Buffaloes in double digits. Off guard Ernie Pimentel led the way with 19 points; forward Gerry Cooper pitched in 16 to go with nine rebounds despite foul trouble; and 6-foot-5 post E.J. Godfrey dropped in 12 points.

“I don’t have to score and put up big numbers,” Gardner said. “That’s what I like to do, be a point guard for my team.

“It’s better if I can get everyone involved. It just makes the game easier, we get into a flow and it’s more fun for everybody.”

Freshman phenom Jordan Kron paced East Union with 18 points but was limited by foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul just two minutes into the third quarter, when he hit two of his three 3-pointers.

Robert Vaughn added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Lancers (2-4, 7-9); Teejay Gordon chipped in 12 points, six rebounds and four assists; and Ricky Inderbitzin finished with eight points and 11 boards.

East Union did well to stay in the game after succumbing to a 9-0 Manteca run to start the second quarter, which put the Lancers in a 29-10 hole — their largest deficit of the game.

East Union was down 38-29 by halftime and got as close as five, 42-37, early in the third when Vaughn drove the lane for a hard-earned bucket.

“Going into halftime we were only down nine, and that’s where we wanted to be because everybody in the gym knows that we can hit 3’s,” East Union coach Brett Lewis said. “We had all the confidence in the world. We could have been down 15 and we’d still think that we were in the game.”