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Playoff implications on the line in 49ers' regular-season finale
While the Yuba College men's basketball team already wrapped up its seventh consecutive Bay Valley Conference title, clinched the postseason and maintained its standard of dominance, tonight's game holds plenty of weight.
The first-place 49ers (20-7, 14-1) will host second-place Merritt College (14-11, 11-4) at 7:30 p.m., and the math is simple: A win, and Yuba will receive a home playoff game — a loss, and Yuba will hit the road.
"If we want any chance of getting a home playoff game, we have to win this," said Yuba coach Doug Cornelius. "It's not like either team can take the night off. Both teams are fighting for that home playoff game."
Yuba is ranked No. 7 in Northern California and No. 13 in the state, and with a victory, the 49ers would assuredly host a game in the 32-team state bracket.
Cornelius believes Merritt brings a pesky challenge.
"We know we're going to get their best shot," he said. "They have the best individual talent in our conference. Man for man, they are more talented than us.
"Thank God we have this game at home," he said. "We'll have a huge home-court advantage."
On Jan. 23, the 49ers erased a 16-point, second-half deficit and escaped Oakland with a 77-74 win.
Cornelius' primary concerns stem from that matchup where the Thunderbirds grabbed 23 offensive rebounds.
"We are not a great defensive rebounding team. It's no secret, everyone outrebounds us," he said. "They are also fast and athletic, so we have to get back in transition. We want the tempo to be up, but it has to be controlled."
Controlling that tempo has been no issue for the 49ers with Akachi Okugo running the point. He's ranks fifth in the state with seven assists per game, while shooting guard Achoki Moikobu isn't far behind, averaging five a game.
Chris Smith, the slashing wing man, leads the team in scoring with more than 15 points a game, while Moikobu and Okugo each average 12 points per contest.
While the three guards have been consistent throughout the season, it's the recent play of the big men which has re-charged the young team.
Jaysen Williams, Yev Dyachenko, Gary Melvin and Jeremy Bubier average anywhere from six to nine points a game. Williams has carried the load rebounding, averaging eight boards.
"Our bigs have been contributing lately, but our guards have to knock down their shots," Cornelius said. "This is a big game for us."