Owls on upswing after coach's heart-to-heart talk with team

Seven games into the season, Foothill College men’s basketball coach Matt Stanley had enough of the Owls’ uneven play. So after a Nov. 21 home game against Monterey Peninsula, he let them have it.

“I got upset with the team after a win,” he said of a 77-74 decision that boosted Foothill’s record to 4-3. “We didn’t play up to our standards. After that, the team bought into the philosophy that it’s not about wins or losses – it’s about getting better every day.”

Two months later, the Owls rank 10th in the state and fifth in Northern California with a 17-6 record. With five games left on the schedule, Foothill is guaranteed to finish with a better record than last season (12-15), when it missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

At 6-1 in the Coast Conference North Division – which Stanley called “the No. 1 conference in Northern California” – the Owls are perched in second place and have all but assured themselves a postseason berth.

“This is my most talented team,” Foothill’s fifth-year coach said. “We’re slowly getting better, and we’re trying to focus on being at our best at the end of the year.”

The regional playoffs are scheduled to tip off Feb. 21. Stanley wouldn’t make any bold predictions when asked if the Owls could make a deep run in the postseason, other than acknowledge that “we’re talented enough to do it.”

Foothill features talented guards Alex Gil-Fernandez and Matt McAndrews, who each average a team-best 19 points per game and shoot nearly 55 percent from the field.

“Those two guys have been playing really well,” Stanley said.

Sophomore Gil-Fernandez seems well on his way to earning all-conference honors for the second straight season. The Gunn High graduate ranks among the top 15 scorers in the state and poured in 38 points in Foothill’s 103-89 win over visiting Cañada Jan. 19.

Redshirt freshman McAndrews is making a strong case for an all-conference spot as well, ranking among the top 10 players in the state in total points.

Stanley noted that McAndrews and Gil-Fernandez have both played their way onto the radar of recruiters for four-year colleges.

“The interest is starting to get stronger,” he said. “Guys like them don’t come around that often.”

Stanley also praised guard Chris Russell (another Gunn grad) and forward Joe Pitocchi (Carlmont), a pair of sophomores averaging approximately eight points per game.

The Owls aren’t big – the 6-foot-5 Pitocchi starts in the post – but they score plenty of points in the paint.

“Our strength is our ability to drive to the basket from the perimeter,” said the coach, who added that his team is good but not great from 3-point range. “We can get by people and finish.”

The one team the Owls haven’t been able to get by in their division is City College of San Francisco. Ranked No. 1 in the state, the first-place Rams beat visiting Foothill 89-72 three weeks ago.

“They’re really good,” Stanley said of San Francisco (23-1). “They’re big, fast and can shoot it.”

The Owls this week get another crack at the Rams, whom are they scheduled to host 7 p.m. Friday.

What will it take to pull off the upset?

“We can’t turn it over so much at the beginning,” said Stanley, whose squad committed 15 turnovers Jan. 10. “They’re so good that they capitalize on 99 percent of them.”

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