Next Stop: Santa Clara & the NorCal Open Division finals

Top-seeded Woodcreek takes down No. 4 De La Salle in regional semifinals Tuesday
By: Steven Wilson,
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Boys Basketball - Open Division

3/10 - No. 1 Woodcreek - 68, No. 8 Capital Christian - 66

3/14 - No. 1 Woodcreek - 51, No. 4 De La Salle - 46

3/18 - No. 1 Woodcreek vs. No. 2 Sheldon at 8 p.m.

          Open Division NorCal finals @ Santa Clara University

3/25 - Open Division State finals @ Golden 1 Center, Sacramento

No matter what you do to try and slow him down, there is one indisputable reality for teams looking to stop Woodcreek’s 6-foot-11 big man Jordan Brown: It’s exhausting.

Every team in the Sierra Foothill League came to this realization months ago, or even years ago, but a few of the top seeds from the CIF Northern California Regional Open Division have learned the hard way recently. 

Even De La Salle’s stingy defense couldn’t slow him up.

“I think he just wore them down,” Woodcreek’s coach Paul Hayes said of Brown. “Their defender outweighed him by 50 pounds, but Jordan’s a handful.”

Brown racked up 23 points, including 13 in the second half, as the top-seeded Timberwolves beat last year’s CIF State Open Division runner-ups from De La Salle, 51-46, at home in the NorCal semifinals Tuesday night.

The victory is No. 31 for the T-Wolves this season — a new school record — as they advance to Saturday’s NorCal Open Division championship in Santa Clara. 

“It’s a great feeling to know that I get a chance to go back to the finals,” Brown said. “After getting knocked out in my freshman year and getting another opportunity to win that game, that’s rare.”

Brown and the Timberwolves will need to get past No. 2 seed Sheldon, for the second time in two weeks, Saturday in Santa Clara in order to advance to the state finals, March 25 at the Golden 1 Center. The two programs are the only public schools left in the hunt for an Open Division title.

“Joey (Rollins) does a great job at Sheldon, those kids play hard and that was an epic battle in Stockton,” Hayes recalled. “I think both teams are going to prep and be ready to play in Santa Clara.”

If Brown can put together another performance like he did Tuesday night, then the T-Wolves will be just fine. 

The big man stayed out of foul trouble — he only had one midway through the fourth quarter — and put on a show for the Black Mob student section with a dominant performance in his last home game of the season. He finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and was a force on defense with seven blocks.

“We stuck with our same defensive gameplan, which is playing great help defense and selling out on that end of the floor,” Brown explained.

After registering one of his seven rejections on the night with his team leading by five and just 44 seconds left in regulation, it was Brown who jumped and created a visual barrier on De La Salle’s last-chance 3-pointer. The trey would have tied the game had it gone in, but Brown did just enough to distract the shooter and it fell short.

“We had a couple defensive stops that did it for us,” Hayes admitted. “Naequan Parker did a hell of a job on (Connor O’Dea) and that was key for us, because (O’Dea) made some tough shots. Defensively, (Parker) didn’t give him a lot of open looks.”

O’Dea led De La Salle with 11 first-half points as the Spartans came out strong and held a 24-20 lead at halftime. The T-Wolves looked out of sync as they missed all of their 3-point attempts and were struggling to find any rhythm on offense. 

Senior Tyrell Roberts was held without a basket in the opening half, while fellow senior Jackson Hughes had just two points. 

“I don’t think we responded well to their physicality at first,” Hayes admitted. “We said at halftime, ‘We got punched in the gut, but what are we going to do about it?’ And we came out and responded better in the second half.”

On defense, Parker stepped up to help shut down O’Dea and the Spartans’ team captain and leading scorer was held scoreless in the second half.  

“I was trying to take away the 3-point shot, because that’s what he’s best at,” Parker explained. “It feels great to slow him down, but my teammates did a good job helping me if I ever got beat.”

With Parker and Brown holding down the defense, Roberts started to find holes by staying patient in transition and attacking the lane only when there was a crease. Although he finished with just four points, two of those came at the free throw line down the stretch to seal the win. 

Hughes also made a pair of clutch 3s in the second half to help his squad mount a comeback, but Woodcreek relied on Brown when it mattered most. 

The big man used a spin move in the lane to drain a floater over the defense and tie the game at 37-37 all with just 7:13 left in the game. He was fouled on the play and buried the free throw to give the T-Wolves their first lead since they led 10-6 in the first quarter.

Brown added an assist to Parker, two free throws and beat a double-team for two more late in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory.

“We did this for the seniors — it was their last time out here, so we had to make sure they got the dub,” Brown added. 

With the loss, De La Salle’s season comes to an end at 28-6 overall, while Woodcreek (31-2) advances to Saturday night’s title game.

Although all of their focus will be on Sheldon this week, the T-Wolves will also follow the Southern half of the bracket. 

Chino Hills — one of only two teams to beat Woodcreek this year — came up short to top-seeded Bishop Montgomery Tuesday night as the defending Super 25 national champion’s season came to an end with an 87-80 loss in the CIF State Open Division SoCal semifinals.

Bishop Montgomery will now play in the other Regional finals and will face No. 2 seeded Mater Dei, which beat St. Augustine 63-57 in the semifinals.

The winners from each bracket will square off for the state title next Saturday in Sacramento.