HAYWARD -- Two close losses at the end of the regular season gave the Chabot College men's basketball team the kick-start it needed.
Now the Gladiators are one win away from playing for a state championship for the first time in 24 years.
After losses to City College of San Francisco (92-91) and Foothill (77-74), Chabot won three straight -- including an upset of CCSF on March 8 -- in the California Community College Athletic Association North Regional playoffs to advance to the state final four.
Chabot (25-7) takes the court Saturday against San Bernardino Valley (28-7) at Cerritos College at 7 p.m. with a spot in the state championship game at stake. A Gladiators win would put them in the finals for the first time since 1990, when they lost to Santa Ana. Chabot has never won a state title in basketball.
Those losses were "definitely a blessing in disguise for us," Chabot guard Paris Davis said. "We knew we had to come out and play even harder, and everybody has done a tremendous job doing that."
After the back-to-back losses, the Gladiators still got the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and pulled out wins over Siskiyous and Cabrillo to get one more shot against CCSF in the regional final.
Chabot got its revenge against the state's No. 1 ranked team, beating the Rams 101-94 to earn a trip to Southern California.
"They've been going at it just as hard this week if not harder," Chabot coach Denny Aye said of the team's preparations. "They're going out there with the same intensity, and they know that the goal of a championship is within their grasp."
Chabot has four players who are averaging double-figures in scoring. The backcourt tandem of Leo Smith, an Oakland Tech alum, and Greg Brown of San Pedro have combined to average over 22 points per game. Cortez Barrett (10.7 ppg) and Davis of Skyline (10.4) have also been big for the Gladiators.
San Bernardino Valley reached the final four with a 91-80 win over Mount San Jacinto. The Wolverines are led by guards Gerry Blakes, who averages 20.5 points per game, and Keith Smith at 14.9.
As a team, SBVC was ninth in the state at 79.4 per game.
"They are a lot like CCSF," said Aye, who took Columbia College of Sonora to a state championship in 1993. "They can score points and are also very good defensively."
CCCAA Men's basketball final four
At Cerritos College, Norwalk
Santa Rosa (22-8) vs. Chaffey (28-5), 5 p.m.
Chabot (25-7) vs. San Bernardino Valley (28-7), 7 p.m.
Games will be streamed live at http://livestats.prestosports.com/cccaa/