Hornets and Vikings battle for Final 4 spot

Top seeded Fullerton (29-1) and fourth seeded West Valley (26-4) will face off on Thursday at 3pm for a spot in the Final Four. The two teams will face eachother for the first time this season in Lemoore in the Elite Eight.

Fullerton comes into the game as the top seed from Southern California and the Hornets won the Orange Empire Conference with an undefeated record. The Hornets have won 22 straight games since losing to San Bernardino on the road on November 29th. Since the loss, the Hornets have put together one of the best resumes in the state and have a 19-1 record against teams that made the post season including wins against Sequoias, East Los Angeles, San Francisco which are all participants at the Elite Eight. When it comes into the game from an offensive standpoint, Fullerton has four players that have averaged in double figures this season. Sharp shooting Kobe Newton leads the Hornets in scoring as the sophomore averaged a team high of 13.9 points per contest. Newton has made 81 three pointers this season and is shooting 38% from downtown and is one of the elite shooters in the state in California. “6-2” Shaquil Bender is another scoring option for the Hornets as the sophomore is averaging 13.4 points per contest. Bender is a three point threat as he has made 56 three pointers and shooting 47% from downtown (4th in the state). Sean Newman Jr. is also a standout player for the Hornets as the point guard is one of the best guard prospects in the state. Newman’s play making skills and all around play are vital in the Hornets success as the freshman is averaging 13.2 points, 5.7 assists (5th in the state) and 4.1 rebounds and he shoots 91% from the free throw line. Jeremiah Davis is the last Hornet that averages in double figures at 12.2 points and he is another option from the three point line as the sophomore is shooting 45% from downtown. RJ Banks (8.6 points), Javon Jones (8.8 points), Samy Howlin (5.3 points) and Mike Ofoegbu (6.2 points) are other players within the rotation that have played a solid role for the Hornets. Fullerton is a very complete team and the Hornets are 5th in the state in points per game averaging 87.8 points per game this season. Fullerton is also in the top 20 in field goals made per game, field goal percentage (49%), three pointers made per game (9.7), three point percentage (40%), free throws made per game (16.7), free throw percentage (76%), assists per game (16.9), and the Hornets squeeze the orange only averaging 11.2 turnovers per game. The Hornets aren’t just good at the offensive end as Fullerton only gives up 69 points per game, and teams only shoot 40% against them this season. Fullerton was the top seed for a reason and will look to play well against the Vikings.

The Vikings come into the game as the 4th seed in Northern California and West Valley finished in 2nd place in the Coast South Conference during the 2022-2023 season. West Valley won 26 games and come into the game on a seven game winning streak. The Vikings picked up playoff victories against Porterville and Las Positas at home as West Valley makes their second straight appearance at the Elite Eight in Lemoore. The Vikings are 12-4 against teams that made the playoffs and will look to knock off the top seed in Southern California in a match up on Thursday afternoon. The Vikings have relied on their scoring punch from two players for the most part of the season as both players have averaged in double figures. “6-6” Elijah Mahi has been a standout player all season long for the Vikings. The freshman standout has been elite and averaged 17.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in his first season in Saratoga. Mahi has scored 20 or more points twelve times this season and scored a career high of 35 points against Porterville in the 2nd round of the post season. Jeremiah Dargan is another player that will need to play well against the Hornets. Dargan averaged 14.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in his freshman season. The guard made 58 three pointers and shot 43% from downtown in his first season for the Vikings. Malik Patton (8.8 points), Baron Bracey (7.5 points), Ariya Briscoe (7.2 points), and Ignacio Bettinelli (6.4 points) are all scoring options for the Vikings this season as well. This season the Vikings are averaging 80 points per game this season. West Valley is 9th in the state in field goal percentage (48%), 4th in the state in 3 point field goal percentage (39%), and 2nd in the state in rebounding margin per game (+13.8). On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings are the best in the state as West Valley only allows 61.1 points per game and have held opponents under 60 points fifteen times this season.

Outlook: In a battle of two teams that have stood out throughout the season, it will be interesting to see the tempo of this game. Both teams are very good at the offensive end, shoot the three ball well, and rebound the basketball. The Vikings must defend the three point line and control the paint, but if Newman is living in the paint and constantly kicking out to wide open shooters it could be a long night. Both teams will defend and play hard and this could be a very good game between two great programs and very well coached teams in the first day at the Elite Eight.

Massey Rating projection (www.masseyratings.com): Fullerton 74 West Valley 67