NORCAL’S FINEST: T-Wolves beat Huskies in title game
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 - 66 vs. No. 2 Sheldon - 59
Open Division NorCal finals @ Santa Clara University
3/25 - No. 1 Woodcreek, vs. No. 1 Bishop Montgomery, 8 p.m.
Open Division state finals @ Golden 1 Center,
Buy tickets online at www.cifstate.org
One possession separated Woodcreek and Sheldon two weeks ago in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section title game in Stockton. But in the rematch, one quarter decided the outcome.
After trailing by as many as 13 points in the third period, Woodcreek’s boys basketball team closed the deficit in the fourth quarter of the CIF Northern California Regional finals Saturday night in Santa Clara.
Thanks to four three-point plays down the stretch, a key 3-pointer from Tyrell Roberts and a handful of clutch free throws, the top-seeded Timberwolves clawed back into the lead and held on for a 66-59 victory over the No. 2 seeded Huskies.
“Coming back like that, beating them twice, and this time beating them by more and proving a point, that’s amazing,” Roberts explained. “It’s just awesome.”
The five-point victory gives the Timberwolves their second NorCal title in school history, but first championship in the ultra-competitive Open Division, and first since 2003.
But the win wouldn’t have been possible without an MVP effort from Woodcreek’s 6-foot-11 national recruit Jordan Brown, who had a team-high 31 points.
Despite being the focal point of Sheldon’s defensive scheme all night, Brown was able to convert 63-percent (14-22) of his shot attempts and snag 17 rebounds, including seven second-chance opportunities on the offensive end.
After the game, the big man was on cloud nine.
“I probably won’t sleep after this one,” Brown admitted with a big smile. “It’s just an amazing feeling. It’s a true blessing.”
THE COMEBACK 2.0
Brown’s last-second free throws in the section title game were clutch, and that ending may go down as one of the section’s top finishes over the past decade, but this weekend’s double-digit swing was similarly impressive.
With just over two minutes left in the third period Saturday, Sheldon’s Elishja Duplechan rose up from the top of the key and hit one of his four treys in the game as he extended the Huskies lead to 13 points, 42-31.
On the other end, Brown was keeping the game close with a series of post moves and jumpers, but Woodcreek needed a spark, and quick.
“We had confidence in our ability to come back,” Brown confessed. “We’ve played in multiple games like this, where we were down and had to come back, so we just worked hard and did our thing.”
The Timberwolves switched to a full-court press defense in the fourth quarter, and called upon the lanky Chris Cagle to guard the top of the key and help slow down Sheldon’s attack. The move resulted in a handful of stops and key turnovers, which Woodcreek converted into points on the other end.
The T-Wolves cut the deficit to 10, 48-38, by the start of the fourth quarter and used an 11-1 run to tie the game at 49-all early in the fourth quarter, which fired up their Black Mob student section.
“You go down 10 in a section final and then 13 in a NorCal final and come back and win, pretty much any other lead that a team has seems like it’s not insurmountable,” Woodcreek’s coach Paul Hayes acknowledged.
SLOWING DOWN SHELDON
Sheldon, which made a living off clutch plays in the fourth quarter in the playoffs this year, lost its composure down the stretch.
The Huskies missed out on key opportunities to keep their lead by unnecessarily forcing shots in the game’s final minutes. They also got called for a technical foul and turned it over three times in key situations, including a five-second penalty on an inbounds-pass with five minutes left.
Their mistakes created an opportunity for Woodcreek to retake the lead.
“They’re a great team,” Brown said of Sheldon. “We flip-flopped a few times at one and two (in the rankings), and you could tell they really brought it tonight and they really wanted to beat us.”
The Huskies battled back from a 9-0 hole to start the game and earned a 26-17 advantage in the third period. But their defense caved in the final eight minutes as Woodcreek scored 28 points.
“Defensively, we stepped it up,” Hayes explained. “We got a few stops because I think we wear on teams a little bit. We wear on them on the offensive end and that takes a toll. When you have to put that much effort defensively into stopping some of our players, that takes a toll on your offense.”
All night, Sheldon’s potent guard combination applied pressure on Brown and his teammates.
Although Huskies’ guard Drew Cobb was on the bench for most of the second half (illness; zero points), Duplechan was lighting it up from the field. He finished tied with Brown for a game-high 31 points, but earned just six of those in the final frame, including a late 3 when the game was out of reach.
“We just put our heads down and worked,” Roberts said. “Coach had us in that full-court man scheme, so we just sat down and played hard.”
THE TURNING POINT
The Timberwolves only began to find a rhythm in the fourth period once they started crashing the offensive glass.
With just over five minutes left in regulation and his team trailing by seven, junior Delis Boggs-Smith earned the first of four nearly consecutive three-point plays for Woodcreek as he climbed the ladder, collected a rebound and earned the putback bucket and foul.
“Delis’ rebound on the weak-side, with that and-one, was absolutely tremendous,” Hayes pointed out. “Boy I tell you, (Jackson) had one and then Jordan had one after two missed free throws. Those were huge.”
Brown’s putback gave Woodcreek a 52-51 lead with 2:46 left as he beat two defenders to get to the rim and finish.
After Sheldon retook the lead with two free throws, Roberts drained the biggest shot of his career on a 3-pointer from the left wing that rattled home.
“When I threw it up, I knew it was going in,” Roberts confessed. “But the reaction was crazy. The Mob went wild — they’re always there, and I love it. It’s mutual love.”
With just over two minutes left, Jackson Hughes added his own three-point play after another Sheldon turnover led to a layup and foul.
Brown then put the game out of reach with one more three-point play — a strong layup that found the net with 54 seconds left in regulation.
“He just has that attitude — he will not be denied late in the game,” Hayes explained.
Roberts — who was 10-for-10 from the free throw line —put the final touches on the 66-59 victory from the stripe and was greeted by his teammates at half court with open arms as the final buzzer sounded.
ONE MORE AT GOLDEN 1
After claiming their second NorCal title in school history and first Open Division championship, Woodcreek will advance to the CIF State title game this weekend in Sacramento.
The T-Wolves will face No. 1 seed and CIF State Open Division SoCal champion Bishop Montgomery in the state finals Saturday, Mar. 25 at 8 p.m. inside the Golden 1 Center.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence and now we’re headed home,” Brown stated. “We need to rally up and really bring the energy next game.”
Brown has visited the Golden 1 Center before, but never played a game on the pro court. That will change this week as he approaches his next opportunity to showcase his versatile repertoire and possibly add a state title to his resume.
“I can’t wait,” he exclaimed.