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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL

THE REMATCH - Woodcreek faces Sheldon in NorCal finals

Woodcreek enters NorCal finals for fourth time in school history with 3-1 record
By: Steven Wilson,
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CIF STATE PLAYOFFS:

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

          Buy tickets online at www.cifstate.org

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

 

One team seeks redemption.

The other is in search for validation. 

Tonight, only one will walk away with that sweet, winning feeling as top-seeded Woodcreek meets No. 2 Sheldon in the CIF Northern California Regional Open Division finals at Santa Clara University at 8 p.m.

The Timberwolves are fresh off a 51-49 win over No. 4 De La Salle at home in the NorCal semifinals Tuesday night and enter the game having won 18-straight games. They own a school-record 31-win, two-loss record.

The Huskies, winners of two in a row including a 56-43 win over Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the other NorCal semifinal Tuesday, sit at 30-3 entering tonight’s game. 

It’s the rematch Sacramento hoop fans have been waiting for.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Woodcreek senior Tyrell Roberts said. “We beat them (in the section finals), but people are saying it was on a controversial (foul). So I guess we have something to prove. We’re going to come out and try and beat them again.”

In their only other meeting this season, the T-Wolves erased a 10-point second half deficit to beat the Huskies on a last-second pair of free throws from Brown, who was a non-factor for most of the game while battling foul trouble.

“I think Jordan’s going to be a little more disciplined this time,” Hayes acknowledged. “That was a very frustrating game for him, although he has great memories of knocking down those two free throws to win it. Jordan doesn’t want revenge — he doesn’t get like that — he’s very poised for his age, but I think he won’t make some of those same fouls he had early in that game.”

Brown racked up 23 points, including 13 in the second half, to lead his squad past last year’s CIF State Open Division runner-ups from De La Salle Tuesday. Now, he gets a chance to return to the biggest stage in Northern California prep basketball.

“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.”

Top-seeded Woodcreek and No. 2 seed Sheldon are the only public schools left in the Open Division and they will battle this weekend for the chance to play in the state final at the Golden 1 Center on March 25.

 

 

KEYS TO A WOODCREEK WIN

In order to emerge victorious, the Timberwolves will need a few things to go their way tonight. 

  • Get Jordan Brown Involved Early: Last time these teams met, the T-Wolves struggled to keep Brown on the floor. Their best player was bothered and eventually benched with three first-half fouls. Look for him to stay more composed tonight and stay on the floor. 
  • Pass, Pass Pass: At times in the postseason, usually late in games, fans can hear the Woodcreek coaches calling out the number of passes. Coach Paul Hayes is a big believer in moving the rock, but he knows that’s also the best way to force the defense into an unfavorable rotation. Look for guards Ty Roberts and Delis Boggs-Smith to get their team in sets that feature a lot of cuts, post passes to Brown and strong rotation around the 3-point line.
  • Knock Down Free Throws: If Woodcreek and Sheldon are involved in a close game, it will be key for the Timberwolves to get to the line and convert free throws. Brown has the most famous free throws in recent memory after her won the section title game two weeks back, but look for Roberts, Jackson Hughes, Naequan Parker and Chris Cagle to see a lot of action at the charity stripe tonight.
  • Slow It Down: Sheldon has multiple guards on the floor that can penetrate and dish or score at the rim. Thus, Woodcreek will need to get back in transition and slow down the Huskies potent attack. Brown has been relied upon a few times this postseason to provide help defense at the net, but he’s the last line of defense, and if Woodcreek wants to keep him out of foul trouble, then Hughes, Parker, Roberts and Cagle will need to stay in front of their opposition.

 

BIG GAME HISTORY

Saturday’s finals appearance will be the fourth time in school history Woodcreek has reached the CIF Regional championship game, but the first time such a feat has been accomplished in the Open Division. 

For Coach Hayes, he’s led three of those NorCal finals teams in his two-stint tenure at the school, including a recent trip in 2015 with Noah Blackwell and Brown, who was just a freshman at the time. That squad also beat De La Salle in the semifinals, but dropped a heartbreaker to San Ramon Valley, 49-45, in the finals at Sleep Train Arena, ending their season. 

The T-Wolves also dropped Hayes’ 2011 appearance in the finals to an Archbishop Mitty squad that featured a 6-foot-8 sophomore sensation named Aaron Gordon. The current Orlando Magic star led his team to a 67-44 win over Woodcreek before claiming a three-point win in the state finals.

Hayes was on the 2010 Woodcreek squad that reached the NorCal finals as an assistant coach, but it was his first stint with the team that he coached Woodcreek to the Division II NorCal championship in 2003. That team ended up falling to a Mater Dei team that featured D.J. Strawberry in the state finals, but still brought back the school’s lone regional championship.

 

BATTLING WITH THE BEST

Although he was facing a top-notch defensive team, Brown stayed out of foul trouble Tuesday against De La Salle (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. 

On top of his 23-point outing, the big man finished with 16 rebounds, five assists and was a force on defense with seven blocks. 

In fact, 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 (De La Salle’s Connor O’Dea) and that was key for us, because he made some tough shots. Defensively, (Naequan) didn’t give him a lot of open looks.”

The impressive defense performance should give the Timberwolves hope moving into the NorCal finals as they face a Sheldon team that relentlessly attacks the hoop. 

Even if they take a bad shot or force something in transition, the Huskies find ways to score and they attack the glass with every opportunity. Much like De La Salle, they penetrate the lane with fast guard play and look to shoot first before passing to an open teammate.

“You could play 32 seconds of great defense, but then 33 or 34 hits and they’re in there for a layup,” Hayes said of De La Salle’s offense. “They’re so disciplined, that’s what makes it tough. They don’t make mistakes and they take advantage of your mistakes.”

In order to reach Saturday’s rematch with Woodcreek, Sheldon (30-3) needed a win over Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the other semifinal game Tuesday in Sacramento. Thanks to a team-high 25 points from Elishja Duplechan, the Huskies earned the 56-43 win and got the rematch they wanted.

Duplechan was one of three players to score 16 points for Sheldon last time against Woodcreek. 

“De La Salle is a great team and they had some good players, but Sheldon has quicker guards,” Woodcreek’s Naequan Parker admitted. “So it’s going to be a tougher matchup for us. But we’ll see how it goes.

“After that first game, I felt like I could do a lot better against them on defense.”

Woodcreek’s starting five will need to be ready from the opening tip to slow down a hungry Sheldon squad this weekend. The Huskies will be in search of redemption after that last-second foul sent Brown to the line to seal the 69-68 win in the section finals. You can bet Sheldon will look to open strong this weekend in Santa Clara.

The T-Wolves have had a few slow starts recently, but their defense seems to set the tone on a nightly basis.

That defense has stymied some of the top offenses late in games this season as the team has managed to come from behind and win in each of their last two games and claim wins in four-straight games decided by eight points or less. 

“That shows our true character,” Brown confessed. “We always find a way to come out on top and do whatever it takes to win.”

Although all of their focus will be on Sheldon this week, a win would put the T-Wolves in the hunt for a state title. Some of their coaches will seek a score from the Southern half of the bracket to keep tabs on the SoCal finals matchup once their game ends. 

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 the north and south brackets will square off for the state title next Saturday in Sacramento.