The second seeded Citrus Owls (27-3) will take a trip to the Central Valley and face 3rd seeded College of the Sequoias (27-3)in a match up between two teams looking to advance to the Final Four on Thursday evening. It will be the two teams first time meeting this season but the two have met before in the Elite Eight back in 2019 when the Owls picked up a 75-63 victory.
Citrus comes into the game on a seven game winning streak and the Owls won the Western State South Conference championship going 13-1 in conference play. Citrus has had a standout season as one of the most complete and consistent teams in the state throughout the 2022-2023 season. The Owls started the season off slow as Citrus went 3-2 and since that point the Owls are 24-1 and lost to Santa Monica in conference play in early February. Citrus has put together a 14-2 record against teams that made the post season. The Owls picked up playoff wins against Cypress and a come from behind home victory in overtime against a very good Ventura team. Citrus has played well throughout the season and are led on the offensive end of the floor by Anthony Tello. The sophomore is averaging a team high 13.4 points per contest including a 20 point performance last game against Ventura. Tello is a player that gets to the line and has 58 steals on the defensive side of the ball this season. Northern Arizona commit Chris Chiles is another threat for the Owls as the sophomore guard has averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. The all conference guard is another player that is able to get to the line and has shot the three ball well this season as the sophomore shot 44% from downtown and made 35 three pointers throughout the season. “6-3” Jayden Johnson is another player that has been consistent on the offensive end for the Owls. The sharp shooter has averaged 11.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and the guard has made 73 three pointers and shoots 87% from the foul line. Aibigho Ujadughele is one of the best on ball defenders in the state while averaging 8.6 points per contest, Rudy Suarez (8.3 points) gives the Owls another three point threat, Jamal Briscoe (7.4 points) and Uriah Foster (8.7 points) are other players that have played well for Citrus. Overall as a team the Owls averaged 84.7 points per game (11th in the state) while giving up 70.6 points per contest (25th in the state). Citrus is 8th in the state in field goal attempts per game, 6th in the state in three pointers made and 4th in attempts from downtown (29.8), 4th in free throws made per game (16.9), 1st in the state in free throws attempted (24.7) and the Owls attack the offensive glass as Citrus is 6th in the state in offensive rebounding (13.6). On the defensive end of the floor, the Owls will play aggressively as Citrus is 5th in the state in steals (10.8 per game) and really guard the three point line as Citrus opponents only shoot 27% from downtown (2nd in the state). The Owls have a great culture and are a very well coached team by Brett Lauer and his staff and will be prepared to face one of the best teams in Northern California.
Meanwhile, the Giants come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the state as the winners of the Central Valley Conference have won 22 straight games. The last time the Giants lost was on December 2nd when Sequoias had a setback against San Francisco 79-53. Sequoias has three losses this season and two of them are from teams that are playing at the Elite Eight (Fullerton and San Francisco). The Giants have put together a 15-3 record against teams that made the post season and went undefeated in Central Valley Conference action. In the post season, the Giants picked up home wins against San Mateo and Redwoods and will have huge fan support as Visalia is fairly close to Lemoore where the Elite Eight is being held. When it comes to the Giants from an individual standpoint, Sequoias has had three players this season that average in double figures. “6-3” University of Massachusetts transfer Javohn Garcia leads the way as the guard has been one of the best guards in the state all season long. Garcia has averaged 20.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game this season. The sophomore has shot 52% from the floor and 48 percent from the three point line while making 49 from downtown. Garcia has the ability to take over games and has got to the free throw line 145 times making 84% from the line, and the guard is 2nd in the state in steals as the sophomore collected 76 this season. “6-7” Terry Miller is another player that has stood out for the Giants this season. The sophomore is one of the most skilled big man in the state as Miller has averaged 14.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 55% from the floor. Shooting guard Tyjean Burrell has also averaged in double figures as the sophomore is averaging 13.2 points per game and has made 65 three pointers this season. Jose Cuello (6.7) has played well in the 2nd half of the season, Cameron Clark (7.7 points), and Tyree Gill (6.7 points) have also played a key role in the Giants success in the 2022-2023 season. Sequoias averages 83.9 points per game and the Giants give up 64.7 points per game (6th in the state). The Giants are in the top 20 in several other categories as Sequoias is 8th in the state in field goals made (31.1), 10th in the state in field goal percentage (48%), 13th in the state in three point field goal percentage (36%), 7th in the state in offensive rebounds (13.6), 3rd in the state in defensive rebounding (31.0), 2nd in total rebounding (44.6), 111th in the state in rebound margin per game (+11.1), 4th in the state in assists per game (19.6), 9th in the state in steals per contest (10.1), 3rd in the state in block shots (6.2), 1st in the state in opponents field goal percentage (36%), and 11th in the state in opponents three point field goal percentage (29%).
Outlook: Sequoias and Citrus will be a great matchup between two great programs that have had great seasons. Citrus will look to pressure full court and speed up the Giants and look to create opportunities off live ball turnovers. The Owls will need to shoot the three ball well and it will be a very good match up as the Giants have guarded the three point line all season long. Sequoias will look to take advantage of a size advantage and look to attack the glass but the Giants are a team that can get out in transition and create opportunities with the ability in their back court. It may sound cliche, but whoever takes care of the ball, controls the glass and makes threes has a great chance of moving into the Final Four.
Massey Rating Projection (www.masseyratings.com): Sequoias 78 Citrus 75