CIF Basketball Picks & Previews

Pinewood of Los Altos Hills point guard Briana Claros (left) makes a move in CIF NorCal Open final while Dennis Lattimore (right) raises plaque for Chino Hills boys after CIF Division I final. Photos: Willie Eashman & Nick Koza.

Here are the predicted scores, what to watch for and more for each of the 12 CIF boys and girls basketball state championship games coming up this weekend in Sacramento. We will focus most on the Open Division and Division I, but also have the picks for each of the other divisions too. With more depth of top teams generally in the SoCal region, we have nine teams from there chosen to win state crowns. Biggest favorites? Perhaps Chino Hills on the boys side and West Campus for girls. Good luck to all teams participating.

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Note: Our lead boys basketball analyst, Ronnie Flores, did the breakdowns for Open Division boys, and Division I boys. Our lead girls basketball analyst, Harold Abend, did the breakdowns for Open Division girls, Division I girls. Editor and publisher Mark Tennis did the rest.

(All games played at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento)

Open Division (Boys)
State No. 4 Sheldon (Sacramento) 29-5 vs. State No. 1 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 26-4, Saturday 8 p.m
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Neither team in the marquee game of this year’s CIF state championships won a section title, as SoCal representative Sierra Canyon lost in heart-breaking fashion to Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the CIFSS Open Division title game, while NorCal representative Sheldon fell to Modesto Christian in the Sac Joaquin Section D1 final in a bracket that had an open-like field of teams.

This is Sacramento Sheldon head coach Joey Rollings during one of his many appearances at the old Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Photo: John Hull/egcitizen.com.

Both clubs have plenty of athletes that can run the floor and finish, but this game will likely be decided by which team can execute better in half court situations. Both teams have played close games against stiff competition, so there shouldn’t be an advantage for either team in terms of preparation for the big stage on a big court. One aspect of the big stage that should favor Sheldon is no travel and having a pro-Huskies crowd that will root its every move and boo every call that doesn’t seem to go NorCal’s way. This could prove to be especially important in a tight fourth-quarter game.

Sheldon also has plenty of depth and a true big man in 6-foot-10 senior Chris Wriedt. He comes off the bench and if he can neutralize some of the rebounding and dirty work K.J. Martin does, Sheldon will be in position to put a lot of pressure on Sierra Canyon down the stretch. Six-foot-7 sophomore Terren Frank is physical and not afraid to take big shots or make plays, so his play will be key if Wriedt has a productive game or if Sheldon gets Martin in foul trouble.

Sierra Canyon doesn’t quite have as much depth, so the health and play of junior wing Cassius Stanley is key. He took a nasty spill in the SoCal open final win over state No. 3 Etiwanda halfway through the second quarter and did not return, but he was walking around the huddle in the second half and is cleared to play. Sierra Canyon has played and won some big games with Stanley not in the lineup, so the Trailblazers are capable of winning this game without much contributions from the high-flying junior. If Stanley has a big game, that could have an uplifting psychological impact for the rest of Sierra Canyon’s players.

The backcourt mathchups are going to be terrific, as Ohio St.-bound Duane Washington and fast-rising junior Scottie Pippen Jr. match wits with Dale Currie, Justin Nguyen and Dom Johnson. Nguyen, a 5-foot-9 junior, is crafty and capable of getting hot from the outside while Johnson is an athletic marvel who had a huge game in the close NorCal open final victory over state No. 6 Bishop O’Dowd. Currie has had a terrific senior season for coach Joey Rollings and he’s the sparkplug who can put Sheldon over the top in its upset bid. With 6-foot-2 junior Kaito Williams and 6-foot-4 senior Ronald Agebsar, Sheldon has terrific athletic ability and can match Sierra Canyon’s board work and above-the-rim plays. If Johnson, Williams or Agebsar throw down a couple of big dunks, it could spark a run for Sheldon.

Playing Etiwanda in its previous game will help Sierra Canyon because Sheldon is a lot like that team, tough and gritty on defense, so Sierra Canyon’s ball-handling will have to be on point. Sheldon will try to establish itself as the more physical team, and if the refs let some of the contact go, Martin’s and Frank’s foul count will be watched closely. There is little doubt Currie will need to have a big game for Sheldon, whereas Sierra Canyon will need some big shots from Washington, but doesn’t necessarily need a monster game. The ability for Sierra Canyon to beat teams offensively from a variety of sources will be the difference down the stretch in a close game.

Predicted Score: Sierra Canyon 66, Sheldon 63

Open Division (Girls)
State No. 1 Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 27-2 vs. State No. 3 Windward (Los Angeles) 26-3, Saturday 6 p.m.

Pinewood has three players it relies on to do most of the scoring and rebounding, Stanford-committed junior 5-foot-10 wing Hannah Jump (16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 101-of-225 on 3-pointers), 5-foot-9 junior F Klara Astrom (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and 5-foot-3 senior floor general and UC San Diego-bound Briana Claros (11.5 ppg, 4.5 assists) but the other two starters, junior G Kaitlyn Leung and freshman G Courtni Thompson, have been playing very well in the playoffs.

Charisma Osborne of L.A. Windward hugs head coach Vanessa Nygaard after coming out of last season’s D1 regional final with 35 points. Photo: Nicc Jackson/@EGBBMedia.

Head coach Vanessa Nygaard at Windward has a solid core of players but everything pretty much revolves around junior sensation and Ms. Basketball candidate Charisma Osborne. The 5-foot-9 guard had 30 points in the Southern Regional Open semifinal win over Etiwanda and 22 points in the SoCal Open title-game victory over Clovis West. The senior duo of long-range shooter Sela Kay (10 points against Clovis West) and Kamil English (13 points against Clovis) have been consistent contributors as has been Kaiyah Corona.

Six-time CIF Division V state champion Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler, who has been to the D5 state championship game eight times and was the 2010 Division V Coach of the Year and 2014 State Coach of the Year when his Panthers last won a state championship, has what looks like his best team ever, but this is for all the marbles and the CIF Open Division state championship and not an enrollment based title under the new competitive equity formula the CIF now uses. Pinewood has been shooting the lights out, particularly Jump, who was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers against St. Mary’s and finished with 19 points, and 6-of-11 on treys against Mitty for 24 points. One of the big questions is will the hot shooting continue, and do Scheppler’s girls have the momentum and confidence after taking down previous national No. 1 Mitty after three straight previous losses. Another question is what will Nygaard do to slow down the hot shooting of Pinewood, and what will Pinewood do to stop Osborne and her supporting cast? Osborne is going to want to attack the basket against Pinewood like she does against all opponents and if she goes off and the supporting cast does their thing, Windward very well might improve to 3-2 in state title games and add a CIF Open title to the D1 title it won last year and the 2011 D4 championship. It’s just too hard to go against a team that just beat Mitty.

Prediction: Pinewood 68, Windward 62

Division I Boys
State No. 20 Las Lomas (Walnut Creek) 31-3 vs. State No. 9 Chino Hills 25-11, Friday 8 p.m.

These are two hot teams that have looked terrific in recent weeks, but there is one big factor that could be the difference in the game. In its state title run, SoCal representative Chino Hills (the CIFSS D1 champions) has seen talented, perimeter-oriented teams such as NorCal representative Las Lomas (a North Coast Section D2 semifinalist), but the Knights haven’t seen a team with the size or overall talent level of the Huskies.

Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills poses with La’Melo Ball the last time Chino Hills was in the CIF state finals. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

Chino Hills had some puzzling losses in league play and didn’t earn a spot in the loaded eight-team CIFSS Open Division playoffs, but have looked everything like the team we pegged No. 8 in the preseason state rankings during its post-season run. With Jordan Brown (who played for 2017 NorCal Open champ Woodcreek) and Marvin Bagley (one of college basketball’s best players at Duke who could be a high school senior) no longer in the CIF ranks, junior Onyeka Okongwu is the CIF’s best big man and coach Brian Dietschy will have to figure out a way to slow him down. He’ll be shadowed whoever he goes, but without a starter over 6-foot-4 for Las Lomas it might not matter. The Knights, who have won 16 of their last 17 games, also don’t really have a banger to bring in off the bench, so the strategy might be to attempt to limit everyone else in Chino Hills’ starting lineup. That strategy didn’t work for St. John Bosco in the SoCal D1
regional final and the Braves have a player (Jonathan Salazar) much more bigger and physical than anyone on the Las Lomas roster.

Fast-rising senior Andre Ball hit 5-of-7 3-pointers and scored 32 points in the regional final, and the Braves were okay with one of the state’s most athletic forwards beating them from the outside as long as the Big O didn’t do big damage inside. If Ball and Chino Hills (which made 9-of-18 3-pointers) shoot anywhere near the percentage it did last week, Las Lomas will have little chance to win this game.

Without the injured Phaquon Davis, the Huskies’ ball-handling has been shaky at times and the tendency for Chino Hills to let teams hang around or get back in games after building a conformable lead is the silver lining for the Knights. Dietschy basically starts five senior perimeters players and with 6-foot-4 Nate Robinson and 6-foot Robert Prince, Las Lomas can match Chino Hills’ skill and quickness in the backcourt. Jason Holman (5-10) is a good perimeter shooter and Devin Payne (6-2) is athletic enough to offset some of the work Ofure Ujadughele brings for the Hukies. Las Lomas will have to shoot it at a high percentage to stay within striking range, but will it be able to get the critical stops? In the end, too many things have to break Las Lomas’ way for the Knights to stop a bigger team that won’t have trouble getting good looks at the basket.

Prediction: Chino Hills 74, Las Lomas 63

Division I Girls
State No. 9 Serra (Gardena) 24-8 vs. State No. 20 Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 15-14, Friday at 6 p.m.

Serra is a deep team under head coach McKinsey Hadley and that’s part of the reason the Southern Regional Division I second seed is playing for a state championship, but deep or not to win a state D1 title 5-foot-11 junior star Alexis Tucker will need to be hot. The ESPN No. 9 rated junior wing and No. 46 overall junior in the nation is averaging a double-double 16.8 points and 13.2 rebounds with 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Senior G Cheyenne Givens (12.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), senior F Rachel Duru (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and senior F Lauren Pointer (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) have all been playing well all season.

The Fighting Irish, guided by head coach LyRyan Russell, are deep as well and have five players averaging over six points a game led by 5-foot-10 senior F Errayanna Hatfield (8.9 ppg), senior 5-foot-7 guard Yaniah Fleming (8.8 ppg), and 5-foot-10 wing and outside shooter Gianna Silvestri (8.7 ppg). Two other players to look for are 5-foot-10 junior F Talo Li-Uperesa and 5-foot-10 senior F Rainah Smith.

Serra made it through to the D1 championship after navigating the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs, and then taking care of business as the No. 2 seed in a loaded Southern Regional Division I field that was a tougher field than in the Northern Regional. It’s hard to say who’s played a tougher schedule since both teams have played their share of state and some nationally-ranked opponents. Serra has had to deal with Harvard-Westlake, Sierra Canyon and Bishop Montgomery in the CIFSS Open and SoCal Regional playoffs, and then Ribet Academy and its 6-foot-9 star Andrea Aquino in a SoCal D1 title game victory, but Sacred Heart Cathedral saw Archbishop Mitty twice, but even though that team was upset by Pinewood it beat all the national top teams, and when the Fighting Irish played them in mid-February they lost by 19, but they were the first team to have a lead on Mitty after the first quarter. After only getting a No. 10 seed in the D1 NorCals, Sacred Heart Cathedral is hot, and has won its last five since a loss to Eastside College Prep in the CCS Open playoffs they avenged in the NorCals. Serra would seem to have a little more firepower and Tucker may very well be the difference.

Prediction: Serra 66, Sacred Heart Cathedral 61

Division II Boys
Alameda 28-5 vs. Crossroads (Santa Monica) 24-9, Friday 4 p.m.

When you think of Alameda and boys hoops, you think of St. Joseph Notre Dame, head coach Don Lippi, numerous state title appearances and of course Jason Kidd. This group of Alameda players is a senior-oriented group that has risen in the D2 NorCal bracket after a loss to Open Division team Bishop O’Dowd in the section semifinals. Another team from that bracket still playing is Las Lomas, which lost to O’Dowd in the section final. One of the keys to this game will be how 6-8 Alameda senior Kingsley Obiorah does matching up with 6-10 Shareef O’Neal of the Roadrunners. If Kingsley can avoid getting dominated, that’s good for Alameda. Another key will be that Crossroads has seemed to have trouble in slower-paced games. If head coach Anthony Davis’ crew gets rolling, watch out. One score that stands out for the Roadrunners is only losing by 75-69 to Sierra Canyon.
Prediction: Crossroads 66, Alameda 60

Division II Girls
Pleasant Valley (Chico) 25-4 vs. Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 30-5, Saturday at 2 p.m.

Both of these teams have wins over Open Division teams — Pleasant Valley over Folsom and Redondo over Fairfax of Los Angeles — but neither one of them has played an elite opponent since December. Pleasant Valley is trying to win the school’s first girls hoops state title since 1985 when the Vikings not only won a D2 crown but finished 28-0. Head coach Marcelo Enriquez has coached in a state final before when Redondo dropped one in D2 to St. Mary’s of Stockton in 2002. Like the PV boys that follow, this game doesn’t have an obvious favorite. Redondo has a very promising freshman in Calli Stokes who will be fun to watch. The Vikings have Colorado-bound Serena Tuiteli. They also may have a magical quality to their season after that game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer that gave them a win in their very first regional game over Sacramento.
Prediction: Pleasant Valley 47, Redondo 45

Division III Boys
Pleasant Valley (Chico) 31-2 vs. Notre Dame (Riverside) 31-3, Saturday 4 p.m.

This is a toss-up if there ever was one. Both teams pretty much beat up on the weaker competition they played at the league and early section rounds of the playoffs. Both were in at least one tourney against much better foes. Pleasant Valley played and lost to Salesian of Richmond at the St. Hope Elite Classic. Notre Dame played and lost and The Classic, a tournament hosted by Damien of La Verne. The Vikings will have the benefit of being supported by a large crowd, who also will be coming from Chico to see if PV can win a girls state title in the previous game. The Titans just may be wee bit more explosive.
Prediction: Notre Dame 75, Pleasant Valley 73


Division III Girls
West Campus (Sacramento) 28-7 vs. Sunny Hills (Fullerton) 23-13, Friday at 2 p.m.

The Warriors, who won the D4 state title one year ago, probably are the biggest favorite among any of the predicted winners we have for the girls games. All of their losses are to D1 teams or higher and they have some notable wins, especially the one against McClatchy of Sacramento. Head coach John Langston also can count on two D1 recruits, point guard Kiara Jefferson (UCLA) and forward Nia Johnson (Cal State Bakersfield). They combine for more than 30 points per game. Sunny Hills fought its way through the SoCal D3 bracket after losing to Cabrillo of Lompoc in the CIF Southern Section D3A semifinals. One of the teams the Lancers beat in the regionals was Cabrillo. Sunny Hills may be the tough, never-say-die squad that the CIF seems to be striving to get for D3, D4 and D5 state finals, but this is an opponent the Lancers are facing that probably should have been placed higher than D3.
Prediction: West Campus 64, Sunny Hills 52

Division IV Boys

Stuart Hall (San Francisco) 23-11 vs. View Park (Los Angeles) 26-8, Friday 12 noon

This one is about as difficult to choose as you can get because it’s about as competitive-equitied a matchup as you can get. Neither team won its league, neither team won its section or made it to a section final, but here they are. Stuart Hall did avenge a CIF North Coast Section D4 playoff loss to St. Mary’s of Berkeley to win the NorCal crown. View Park didn’t win the Coliseum League title in the L.A. City Section, but the Knights did beat league champ Crenshaw once. View Park winning the way it did against Christian of El Cajon also was impressive.
Prediction: View Park 56, Stuart Hall 53

Division IV Girls
Woodside Priory (Portola Valley) 17-14 vs. Rolling Hills Prep (San Pedro) 30-2, Friday, 10 a.m.

Watch what happens on the inside in this one as RHP freshman Clarice Afunwafo and Woodside Priory junior Ila Lane are both 6-4 and block a lot of shots. Afunwafo wasn’t on last year’s team obviously that lost to Eastside College Prep in the D5 state final. The two top players off that team were sophomores Alyssa Maxey and Macy Pakele. Woodside Priory also has guard Tatiana Reese who has been a standout the last several seasons. It will be strange for a team that went 3-7 in league winning a state title, but the Panthers are from the same league as Pinewood, Eastside and others and this is competitive equity. The Huskies have enough firepower to get it done, though, and will be moved up to a much higher division next season with so many returning players.
Prediction: Rolling Hills Prep 62, Woodside Priory 57

Division V Boys
Argonaut (Jackson) 29-5 vs. Santa Clarita Christian (Canyon Country) 24-9, Saturday 12 noon

We really like how both of these teams can score and play and an up-tempo pace. For Argonaut, when Adison Cramer and Jared Votaw both get going the Mustangs become extra-tough to stop. For Santa Clarita Christian, senior Jordan Starr is the leading scorer and leads the way in assists. Sophomore Caden Starr and freshman Noah Veluzat also are double-digit scorers. We’re going with Santa Clarita Christian just because we like the fact that head coach James Mosley put his team up against Mission Bay of San Diego, Etiwanda and Foothills Christian (plus Corona Centennial) to start the season. All three of those teams were in the CIF SoCal Open Division.
Prediction: Santa Clarita Christian 74, Argonaut 67

Division V Girls
Lowell (San Francisco) 20-11 vs. Sierra Pacific (Hanford) 31-5, Saturday 10 a.m.

At first glance, you’d think the Golden Bears from a Central Valley community that has tasted a CIF title before (Hanford High) would be a big favorite. They’re not. This is competitive equity and whether Lowell (which has 2,700 students) should be D5 doesn’t matter once they start playing. Lowell also has played Pinewood and O’Dowd and other elite teams. While head coach Matt Magsanay’s girls didn’t win the SF Section title they did go to four overtimes in one of their losses to Lincoln. Sierra Pacific was actually D4 in the Central Section playoffs, lost to San Joaquin Memorial in the final, then went down to D5 so competitive equity helped the Golden Bears get this far too. In the end, we think Sierra Pacific’s ability to score behind senior Haley Bettencourt and sophomore Celeste Lewis will be just enough.
Prediction: Sierra Pacific 52, Lowell 50

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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One Comment

  1. TinyTim
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Great research and analysis of the CIF Regional championship teams to play in the upcoming state championship games.
    As usual, the South is favored in most of the Boys’ games and it’s even for the Girls.
    What’s interesting is that in the last 12 years or so is how much better the NorCal girls have done than the NorCal boys against SoCal in state championships (In most sports, not just basketball).

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