TWIN FALLS • All season long, College of Southern Idaho men’s basketball coach Steve Gosar has preached how hard it is getting through the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
He talked about the always tough Salt Lake and USU-Eastern Utah teams, the in-state rivalry with North Idaho and the ever-improving Colorado Northwestern.
He talked about the grueling roadtrips, with the three-hour drive to Salt Lake City representing the easiest of the bunch. And mostly, he talked about how winning the Region 18 Tournament prepares a team for the NJCAA national tournament like no other conference in the country.
“We talked about it as a staff, that’s the best thing about this league and the worst thing about this league. The worst thing, it’s so hard to get out of league, the best thing is, if you get out league, you are so tested with different styles of play, with tough travel, with tough environments, that you’re battled-tested and ready for the national tournament,” Gosar said. “I think it prepares you better than any league in the country.”
Gosar may be on to something.
Since 2002, CSI has made it to Hutchinson, Kan., for the national tournament five times. The Golden Eagles won it all last year, and finished third in 2007 and fourth in 2005.
Salt Lake made it back-to-back years in 2008-09, winning the championship in 2009 after losing the year before.
USU-Eastern Utah (then called College of Eastern Utah) took third place in 2010, a year after star Darington Hobson left for New Mexico.
Though it has since moved up to NCAA Division II, Dixie State won the NJCAA national championship in 2002.
Region 18’s three championships in the last decade are more than any other region.
Region 5 has two titles since 2002: South Plains (Texas) and Howard (Texas) in 2008 and 2010. Region 2 has two: Midland (Texas) in 2007 and Arkansas-Fort Smith (2006), and Region 11’s Southeastern (Iowa) Community College won back-to-back titles in 2003-04.
Paris (Texas) Junior College of Region 14 won the title in 2005.
“The league is so hard, it really doesn’t matter who you play. I don’t think there’s a bye week anywhere in the league. Whether it’s Salt Lake or Eastern Utah or North Idaho or anyone else, I just think, you know what, that’s league,” Gosar said. “Our teams have all represented well at the national tournament. It really is a dogfight.”
CSI (30-3) of course won the SWAC dogfight for the second straight year and beat a solid Arizona Western team Tuesday in a bi-regional game to qualify for nationals to defend its 2011 national title.
There were some bumps along the way, and some close calls.
The Golden Eagles’ first SWAC loss (they only had two) came to North Idaho in Coeur d’Alene Jan. 14, a 75-71 setback. The Cardinals would be a pain in the Golden Eagles’ you know what the rest of the season.
In February, they erased a 20-point halftime lead in Twin Falls to make the game a close contest late before CSI won 69-68. The teams went to overtime for the second matchup in Coeur d’Alene — a 64-58 win for CSI — and CSI had to beat North Idaho a third time in the Region 18 championship game.
“They are a great team and we had some good battles with them this season,” said CSI forward Luke Cothron.
CSI’s only other SWAC loss was a shocker: the 20-point shellacking at the hands of Snow College in Twin Falls — an 82-62 smacking Feb. 16.
“That was a good thing for us. We needed to be humbled a bit and the guys really responded after that,” Gosar said.
How Region 18 Has Fared at Hutch
2011: CSI def. Midland (Texas) 72-64 for national championship
2010: Eastern Utah def. Wallace State (Ala.) 82-66 for third place
2009: Salt Lake def. Midland (Texas) 67-60 for national championship
2008: Salt Lake loses 67-56 to South Plains (Texas) in title game
2007: CSI loses 91-86 to Coffeyville (Kan.) for fourth place
2006: CSI loses 78-72 to Monroe (N.Y.) College in consolation final
2005: CSI def. Chipola (Fla.) 84-70 for third place
2004: CSI doesn’t place, losing 70-66 to Eastern Wyoming
2003: Dixie State def. Georgia Perimeter 78-69 for third place
2002: Dixie State def. Coffeyville (Kan.) 82-81 for national championship