By DAN GOLDMAN
MODESTO At the halfway point of the Central Valley Conference season, the Columbia College basketball team faced a must-win situation when it visited intradistrict rival Modesto Junior College last night.
With third place and a chance to stay in the championship race on the line, the Claim Jumpers were not only going up against a red-hot Modesto team which handed then No. 1-ranked Fresno its only loss of the season on Jan. 22, but were also playing the first of two rugged league road games in a row that could make or break their season.
That being the case, Columbia needed its top players to bring their "A" games, and they got it in the form of 26 points from guard Derek Olich, 17 points (including 15 in the second half) from forward Talin Zimmer, and a teamwide performance of 19-for-22 from the foul line in a back-and-forth 75-72 victory over the Pirates.
Columbia (15-9, 4-2 CVC) stayed one game behind co-leaders Fresno (26-1, 6-1) and Sequoias of Visalia (6-1, 13-9), while knocking Modesto (12-13, 4-3) two games off the pace.
"Modesto is a very good team," Columbia coach Andy Vasher said. "Some people (in Northern California) look at the CVC and see Fresno and take the rest for granted. The rest of us don't have great records, but nobody is going to want to play any of us in the (playoffs).
Thanks to Olich's 13 first-half points, Columbia managed to take a 30-30 tie into halftime despite shooting just 34 percent from the field.
But as the second half got under way, both teams discovered the form that makes either a darkhorse contender for the CVC title, as evidenced by seven lead changes and four ties in the final 20 minutes.