The Irvine Valley men's basketball team didn't look good in losing to Saddleback, 74-58, in December in the final of the Bill Brummel Classic. Last Friday night was a different story.
The Lasers played one of their best games of the season to knock off Saddleback, which was ranked No. 1 in the state, 69-58, in a Orange Empire Conference showdown at Saddleback.
"If you want to give yourself a chance to win conference you have to go through Saddleback," IVC Coach Jerry Hernandez said. "It was a real quality win."
The victory moved Irvine Valley, which was ranked No. 10 in the state, into first place by itself in the conference standings. IVC's record improved to 18-3 overall and 5-0 in conference.
Saddleback slipped to 20-4 overall and 5-1 in conference. Unlike the previous match-up where Saddleback jumped out to a 23-point lead in the first half, it was IVC that raced out to a big lead in the first 20 minutes Friday night.
The Lasers did so behind the hot shooting of freshman guard Ramon Mejia. Mejia was 4 for 4 in the from three-point range.
"Ramon carried us for a while with his will and tenacity," Hernandez said. "He made big plays." IVC made good on 7 of 13 shots from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. The Gauchos shot just 30 percent from the field in the first half, missing all three attempts from three-point range.
Saddleback failed to score a basket for the final 6:36 of the first half and IVC turned a narrow lead into a 14-point advantage at halftime after a 23-6 run to end the first half. Saddleback didn't get closer than eight points in the second half and IVC led by as many as 16 points before closing out the 11-point victory.
Mejia finished 5 of 7 from three-point range and had 19 points while sophomore forward Travis Fulton led the Lasers with 21 points and seven rebounds.
"Travis had six offensive rebounds," Hernandez said. "He wasn't getting a lot of open looks on offense so he had to go and get the ball and create opportunities for himself."
Sophomore center Ephraim Ekanem added 10 points and 13 rebounds and sophomore forward Joe Eberhard had nine rebounds to go along with five points. IVC out-rebounded Saddleback, 48-33, in the contest.
"A great deal of our success was because of how we played defense and rebounded," Hernandez said. "(Assistant coaches) Drew (Alhadeff) and Jason (Garey) came up with a better gameplan against them than we had the first time. It really gave us a chance to win."
IVC plays again Wednesday, facing Cypress on the road at 7:30 p.m. in another conference contest. Box Score