NorCal Open Boys: O’Dowd wins

Compared to the previous meeting of Oakland Bishop O’Dowd vs. Capital Christian of Sacramento, it was a much closer contest in Saturday’s CIF Northern California Open Division final but the Dragons still had more firepower in a 70-60 victory.

Capital Christian came into January’s MLK Classic matchup at Cal’s Haas Pavilion ranked as the No. 1 team in Northern California by most in the media (not counting Cal-Hi Sports) and headed back to Sacramento with its tail between its legs after an 86-60 loss.

Saturday’s game at Sleep Train Arena figured to be closer and it was. D.J. Wilson, the 6-foot-8 senior from Capital Christian who is headed to Michigan, only had eight points against the Dragons in January, but played with determination and flair this time. He kept the Cougars (28-4 and ranked No. 8 in the state) within striking distance throughout after they fell behind 21-12 at the end of the first quarter.

D.J. Wilson of Capital Christian blocks reverse layup attempt by Bishop O'Dowd's Ivan Rabb. Photo: Willie Eashman.

D.J. Wilson of Capital Christian blocks reverse layup attempt by Bishop O’Dowd’s Ivan Rabb. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Wilson made 12-of-23 shots from the floor and ended with a game-high 29 points. He added six rebounds and four blocks. The problem was that no other Cougars scored much.

“D.J. didn’t play great against us last time, but we knew he was going to come to play tonight,” said Bishop O’Dowd head coach Lou Richie. “He’s a competitor and they’re a quality program. The biggest difference is when we got the good lead early we started settling for 3-point shots and we didn’t do as good a job in transition defense.”

Although O’Dowd had to answer a run by the Cougars in the third quarter, it was never seriously challenged and looked like a team that can beat three-time defending state champ Mater Dei in next week’s Open Division final. The Dragons (28-4), ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 13 in the FAB 50 national rankings, also will be trying to deny No. 1 Mater Dei’s attempt at finishing its first-ever state championship undefeated season. At least one national ranking also has Mater Dei No. 1, but the Monarchs are No. 3 in the FAB 50.

“First off, we’re happy to get where we’re at, and represent our school and community in the state championships,” Richie said. “For me it will be the seventh time, as a player at O’Dowd in 1986 and 1988 and as a coach here five times, but there’s no monkey on our backs. We just want to go back out and show that we’ve improved. Our goal will be to compete, play harder than we did last time, and we can win an Open title.

Ivan Rabb, O’Dowd’s 6-foot-10 junior and the leading candidate to the State Junior of the Year, followed up his monstrous 31-point outing against Capital Christian in January with 26 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. He did it while performing on a sprained ankle that was suffered in Wednesday’s semifinal win against Modesto Christian.

“I was a little rusty not practicing but I wasn’t tentative, just a little conscious of putting too much pressure on it,” Rabb said. “The ankle is fine. We won and that’s all that counts.”

The difference for the Dragons was that senior guard Paris Austin was just as sensational, especially in the first half. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

It was difficult for the O’Dowd players and coaches to talk much about next week because the Mater Dei-L.A. Westchester game still had the fourth quarter to play as the post-game press interviews were ending. Still, it’s obvious that snapping an 0-7 run in CIF state finals covering the last 33 years is going to provide a lot of motivation.

“We’re motivated every game but this is the state championship and we know about the 33 years,” Rabb said. “When we started the season our goal was to win the state championship.”

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