State’s No. 1 team advances to CIF Open Division state final with 56-47 triumph over Modesto Christian. The Dragons weren’t explosive but ground it out behind Ivan Rabb’s 18 points and 18 rebounds. Go inside here for recaps of all of the NorCal boys championship games both from Sacramento and American Canyon. Other winners were San Ramon Valley (D1), Archbishop Mitty (D2), Campolindo (D3), Capital Christian (D4) and University of San Francisco (D5).
Note: Associate editor Harold Abend covered the games played at American Canyon.
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With a lineup facing them with just as much size as it has, it figured to be more of a grinder type of game for the Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland boys basketball team on Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena in the CIF Open Division Northern California championship.
This bunch of Dragons, however, has proven so far that it doesn’t matter what style they face. Their 56-47 win over Modesto Christian kept them unbeaten against in-state competition this season and sends them to their second straight CIF Open Division championship game.
“No question we can play and do well in a game like this,” said Bishop O’Dowd McDonald’s All-American Ivan Rabb, who topped the Dragons with 18 points and also grabbed 18 rebounds. “It’s not the first one this season and it’s good to have one like it before next week.
“It could help me in that game. I’m definitely going to do everything I can to play 32-plus minutes and maybe I’ll get a triple-double.”
Modesto Christian, which advanced to its 11th regional final but first in the Open Division with road wins over Monte Vista of Danville and Serra of San Mateo, received a game-high 20 points from University of Pacific-bound 6-foot-6 Anthony Townes and also battled inside against Rabb with 6-foot-9 Robinson Idehen (nine points).
The Crusaders (30-4), who were ranked No. 10 overall in the state entering the night, led 18-13 at the end of the first period, but O’Dowd got more into gear in the second quarter. The Dragons (27-4) went on a 15-5 run in that period to take a 28-23 lead and steadily increased their lead in the second half.
At one point late in the third quarter, Modesto Christian had the lead down to four points but O’Dowd answered and also made its free throws in the final minutes.
“They were able to slow us down and hurt us on the boards,” said O’Dowd head coach Lou Ritchie, whose team ended the season of the Crusaders for the second straight season (last year in the NorCal Open semifinals). “I don’t know if this proves anything (about winning a slow-down style game) but we like to play faster and we want to have more possessions. Hopefully, we’ll play better next week.”
“What we’ve done this season is great, but you’re never satisfied after a loss,” said Modesto Christian head coach Richard Midgley, who counts Ritchie as among his best friends. “I thought there were some positives, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
Boise State-bound Paris Austin also had a key sequence for the Dragons in the second half with a 3-pointer and a layup that helped them push the lead up to 10 when it had been cut to five. Austin finished with 13 points. Jeevin Sandhu and Alex Zhao also hit open jumpers (mostly in the first half) that prevented Modesto Christian from getting too much of a lead.
In other NorCal boys finals played at Sleep Train Arena:
San Ramon Valley (Danville) 49, Woodcreek (Roseville) 45
The Timberwolves made it close with a late rally, but Drew Kunde’s two free throws with 10.8 seconds left gave the Wolves the cushion they needed to hold on for their first NorCal title since 1992.
Woodcreek (27-6) fell behind in the fourth quarter after the two teams were tied heading into that quarter, thanks in part to a dominating sequence from 6-foot-10 San Ramon Valley senior center Gregg Polosky.
Polosky, who nearly had a triple-double in San Ramon Valley’s semifinal win over Berkeley with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks, came up with a dunk off the fast break and then had a blocked shot that led to a 3-pointer by Keith Smith for a five-point lead.
“Some coaches don’t always say emotion is that important, but we respond to emotion,” said head coach Brian Botteen, who was on the school’s JV team in 1992 and is in his first year as the head coach following the retirement of long-time head coach John Raynor (still the school’s athletic director). “It just lifts us and there were some key moments like that one that lifted us tonight.”
Woodcreek still made a late charge despite leading scorer and freshman phenom Jordan Brown fouling out in the game’s final minutes. A 3-pointer by senior Malcolm Thomas brought the lead down to 45-42 with 42 seconds left, but San Ramon Valley broke the ensuing press and got a layup by Tatum Kapulica.
Two free throws by Noah Blackwell with 15.6 seconds remaining then brought the Timberwolves back to within two at 47-45. That’s when Kunde then made his two free throws that essentially clinched the win.
“That’s indicative of what they’ve done all year,” Woodcreek coach Paul Hayes said of his team’s late surge. “It starts in practices and that competitiveness carries over. They just knocked down a few more open shots than us.”
Smith led all scorers with 16 points. Polosky only had nine, but also had eight rebounds and three blocks. Christian Fuca also had 13 points for the Wolves, who are now 26-6 heading into next week’s state final against Chino Hills.
Brown had difficulty with San Ramon Valley’s size, but still had 15 points and 18 rebounds. Thomas added 12.
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 63, Sacramento 49
In a matchup of teams loaded with elite underclassmen, junior Ben Kone and the Monarchs put the clamps on Sacramento.Kone, a 6-foot-8 junior who was on last season’s all-state sophomore team, came through with 23 points and 17 rebounds as Mitty won its fourth NorCal regional title in five years.
The Monarchs (20-10) won D2 region crowns in 2011 and 2012, then won the NorCal Open Division title in 2013 before losing in the NorCal Open Division playoffs last year. Those three other teams, of course, featured two-time Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year Aaron Gordon.
Sebastian Much, Mitty’s 6-foot-7 sophomore who has missed two months of the season with a hip injury, had 17 points and took some of the pressure off Kone.
“He’s one of the best wings in Northern California,” Kone said of his friend. “He hits a lot of clutch shots for us. I love battling with him every day.”
Sacramento, which scored 72 and 85 points in its first two NorCal games, struggled to do much of anything in this game. The Dragons (28-6) shot just 27 percent from the floor.
“Even NBA teams go cold and today it came for us at the wrong time,” said Sacramento head coach Derek Swofford. “We knew they like to grind it out. For the most part, they got what they wanted.”
“We know they have so many weapons from the wing,” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy. “Our guys did a great job of contesting their shooters.”
In NorCal boys finals played at American Canyon High (all writeups by Harold Abend):
Campolindo (Moraga) 50 Drake (San Anselmo) 44
With the score tied 44-44, Chris Hansen hit six free-throws in the final 37.3 seconds and No. 2 seed Campolindo (28-4) advances to its first ever state championship in three Northern Regional title game appearances.
Hansen, a 6-foot-7 UC San Diego-bound senior, finished with a game-high 22 points and 17 rebounds. Scott Chen added 11 points and Austin Clarke chipped in with 10 points.
Top-seed Drake led 44-42 with 2:40 remaining off a steal and layup by Malik Huff (12 points), but the Pirates couldn’t get a call and failed to score the rest of the way. Dane Wells added 12 points for a Drake team (28-6) that is now 3-2 in NorCal title games.
The game was a back and forth affair with Campolindo leading 13-8 after one quarter and 23-22 at the half. The second half saw six lead changes and four ties before the Cougars put it away.
“To finally get a win in the NorCal championship is huge for the Campolindo community, especially after our football team won a state championship,” said Campolindo head coach Matt Watson, referring to the football team’s dramatic triumph in last December’s D3 state bowl game over El Capitan of Lakeside. “But you have to feel bad for Drake. They played their hearts out but someone has to go home. I’m just glad it’s not us.”
Capital Christian (Sacramento) 60, St. Mary’s (Berkeley) 47
Fourth-seed Capital Christian got a big double-double off the bench from Marcus Fowler to advance to its first Division IV state championship in its third straight appearance in a Northern Regional title game and fourth appearance overall.
Fowler, a 6-foot-3 junior who also plays football for the Cougars, finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, a season high in both for him. Edward Ware added 14 points and Justice-Shelton Mosely chipped in with 11 points. They also played football for a team that lost to Central Catholic of Modesto in a mid-December CIF Division IV NorCal bowl game.
“It’s a big deal to get this monkey off our back and bring this NorCal championship back home,” said Capital Christian Coach Devon Jones.
St. Mary’s led 25-22 early in the third quarter, but a 9-0 run by Capital Christian gave the Cougars a 31-25 lead they never relinquished.
No. 11 seed St. Mary’s (20-12) was led by Aren Ulmer with 12 points. Josh Allen added seven points and 10 rebounds. The Panthers are now 4-4 in NorCal title games.
Capital Christian now meets Crespi of Encino in the Division IV state championship next Saturday at 12 noon in Berkeley at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.
“We played Crespi last year in the summer but we really don’t know that much about them,” Jones remarked. “We know they’re a good team and we’ll have to play our best game of the season, but we plan to speed them up. You have to catch us.”
University (San Francisco) 65, Brookside Christian (Stockton) 50
Second-seed University turned a close game through the first two quarters into an easy victory.
After a 12-12 tie through one quarter and a 26-21 lead at halftime, University (28-7) turned on the afterburners in the third quarter to outscore Brookside 22-11 and pretty much seal the deal.
Mattie Mrlik took over in the third quarter and led University with 27 points, including 18 in the second half on 7-of-8 shooting. For the game, the junior guard was 11-of-16 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range. As a team, the Red Devils were 7-of-9 on 3-pointers in the second half. Brandon Lew added 13 points and Sean Gilmore and Noad Sebhatleab chipped in with 11 points apiece.
“It was a great team effort, great balance,” said University head coach Randy Bessolo. “In the first half, we let them do the things they wanted to do but in the second half we found another level.”
For University, it is the fourth Northern Regional Division V title in six appearances. The Red Devils will be trying to win a first CIF Division V state championship after coming up short in their first three tries. Their opponent will be Cal-Hi Sports state No. 6 ranked Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth.
“The question is do you think they’re asking Sierra Canyon about University?” was the tongue-in-cheek answer of Bessolo when asked what he knew about Sierra Canyon.
Fourth-seed Brookside Christian (26-5) was making its second appearance in the D5 NorCal game, but lost for the first time.
“No excuses. We just got outplayed today,” remarked Brookside coach Adam Lichter.
The Knights were led by Kameron Vales and Da’vion Barlow with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend