Try as he might, Will Cowen could not brush off the satisfaction of knocking off the state's top-ranked team late Friday night.
Asked about the significance of the 74-73 win Friday over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Mount San Antonio, the Ventura College men's basketball coach initially responded glibly.
"It means we get to play tomorrow night at 7," said Cowen.
But the coach couldn't keep playing down perhaps the biggest win in his three years at Ventura.
"It's a huge win," said Cowen. "You feel very fortunate to come out with a win against a team like Mount SAC. It's a huge confidence builder for us."
James Ennis, Mike Melonas and Corey Hall scored 15 points apiece, Austin Ramljak added 14 and Eric Mitchell had 10 points and nine assists as the No. 6-ranked Pirates (9-2) relied on a balanced effort to upend the Mounties (9-1) in the first round of the power-packed Wells Fargo Tournament at Citrus College in Glendora.
Mount SAC scored 13 of the first 17 points along its way to a 45-32 halftime lead.
"They came out like gangbusters against us," said Cowen, "but our guys trusted themselves the whole game."
But Hall and Ramljak splashed 3-pointers to open the second half and spur a 17-2 VC run that pulled the Pirates even, 47-47, with 16:13 to play.
It was still tied when Hall and Melonas spurred an 8-2 run to give the Pirates its biggest lead of the game, 68-62, with 4:49 left. But the Mounties tied the game twice in the final 90 seconds via guard Antonio Bigelow (game-high 26 points).
Hall produced the game-winning point on a free throw with 24 seconds to play, then defended the slender lead by tapping the ball out to midcourt in the final seconds.
Ventura turned the ball over just five times as it made its charge in the second half.
"It's the only way to play against Mount SAC," said Cowen. "They feed off the turnover."
Ventura advances to a semifinal date with No. 3 Antelope Valley (7-2) Saturday night at 7. The Marauders needed double overtime to survive No. 8 Riverside, 78-69.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Citrus (10-0) beat Fullerton, 87-78, and No. 13 San Bernardino Valley beat No. 14 Los Angeles Trade-Tech, 86-79, in overtime.
Should Ventura and Citrus advance Saturday, the Pirates will face the No. 1, 2 and 3 teams in Southern California in the same weekend.
2010 Wells Fargo Tournament hosted by Citrus College
No. 2 Citrus 87, Fullerton 78
No. 13 San Bernardino Valley 86, No. 14 LA Trade Tech 79 (OT)
No. 3 Antelope Valley 78, No. 8 Riverside 69 2OT
No. 6 Ventura 74, No. 2 Mt. SAC 73
Fullerton vs LA Trade Tech, 1 p.m.
Riverside vs Mt. SAC, 3 p.m.
Citrus vs San Bernardino Valley, 5 p.m.
Antelope Valley vs Ventura, 7 p.m.