Santa Cruz Warriors Split Weekend Series vs. Reno Bighorns

Santa Cruz Warriors center, Daniel Coursey, talks to media following a win over the Reno Bighorns
Santa Cruz Warriors center, Daniel Coursey, talks to media following a win over the Reno Bighorns /

Santa Cruz Warriors successfully defend home court against the Reno Bighorns on Friday, but drop a game to the Bighorns on the road in Reno the following night.

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The defending NBA D-League champion Santa Cruz Warriors went 1-1 in their weekend back-to-back series with the current Western Conference leaders, the Reno Bighorns. Santa Cruz moves to a regular season record of 14-23, good enough for fourth in their division and seventh in their conference.

The last time these two teams met was Feb. 9, resulting in a 129-123 loss for Santa Cruz. Both teams were coming into Friday off three days rest, looking to extend each of their one-game win streaks.

Friday at Kaiser Permanente Arena was a battle of epic proportions as the two teams fought tooth and nail over the entire length of the game. The first half ended with Reno ahead by a single point, which would have been a one-point advantage in favor of the Warriors had David Stockton not scored a basket with three seconds remaining in the half.

Reno began the fourth quarter ahead by three, but their lead was quickly neutralized by a 6-1 run by Santa Cruz to start the final segment. The Warriors continued to build on their lead after that, all the while staving off the relentless comeback effort by the Bighorns. The Sea Dubs ended the night victorious, winning 121-115.

Aaron Craft was the leading scorer for the Sea Dubs on Friday, posting a new career-high 30 points. Daniel Coursey, who didn’t even know he was to receive his first start for Santa Cruz until a few moments prior to the contest, dropped 24 points on 11-for-12 shooting. Darington Hobson also played a key role, adding in 17 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.

Reno’s Erick Green led all scorers on Friday with 36 points. Ricky Ledo contributed 21 points, while Stockton added 15 points. Reggie Hearn recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Gani Laval also earned a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

After the game, head coach Casey Hill talked to media, saying that over the course of their last couple wins, the difference has really just been their improved pace and chemistry.

“We’ve committed to doing the things that this team has been good at over the years, which is playing defense, getting stops, running, and scoring points in transition…and we’ve finally started doing it,” said Hill. “And the one thing we needed to do in order for it to stick was experience success doing it.”

“It’s fun. The locker room is happy. They like playing with each other. It’s good.”

Both teams then headed to Reno Events Center to play once more, this time in a Saturday night showdown. While the Warriors would have liked to win another one against one of the best teams in the D-League this season, Reno proved why they’re the top of the conference after going on a 22-4 run in the second quarter. While their 22-13 run in the fourth quarter was admirable, Santa Cruz just wasn’t able to cover the deficit, losing to the Bighorns 133-124.

Hobson was the leading scorer for Santa Cruz on Saturday, dropping 24 points on the night. Craft (19 pts, 10 ast) and Ronnie Brewer (10 pts, 12 reb) each logged double-doubles, Chris Udofia tallied 18 points, and Verdell Jones scored 14 points.

Stockton and Green continued their high level play to lead all scorers with 26 points apiece on Saturday. Duje Dukan, on assignment from the Sacramento Kings, had 22 points, while Ledo contributed 17 points in the win over the Warriors.

Santa Cruz will have a few days off before they have to get up to defend KP Arena again, this time against the Bakersfield Jam (16-21). That game will be on Wednesday, March 2 at 7:00 PM/PT, and fans will be able to catch that game live on Youtube.

Also of note: Mychel Thompson made his official return to the team on Saturday, dropping 16 points in his season debut. The 6-foot-7 guard last played for Italy’s Pallacanestro Varese before finding himself back with Santa Cruz.

The 27-year-old brother of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson played in nine league games and five FIBA Europe Cup games for Varese, during which he averaged 4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds on 33.8 percent shooting from the field, 27.8 percent shooting from behind the arc.