Woodcreek’s valiant effort falls short in state championship
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, No. 2 Sheldon - 59
3/25 - No. 1 Woodcreek - 67, No. 1 Bishop Montgomery - 74
If it weren’t for a slow start and a 20-point first half deficit, fans may be talking about this year’s Woodcreek boys basketball teams as one of the best ever.
The Timberwolves impressive 19-game win streak through the Sierra Foothill League, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section bracket and the NorCal Tournament culminated in last weekend’s state title game at the Golden 1 Center.
Although the team ultimately dropped a 74-67 decision to SoCal’s champions from Bishop Montgomery, Woodcreek put up a fight and looked poised for another miracle comeback win in the waning seconds.
“We just had a slow start, but it’s nothing new,” junior Jordan Brown admitted. “We’ve had games like this before, but I think it was the change in atmosphere — it probably got to some of us. But we did a great job bouncing back in the second half.”
In front a packed lower-bowl in Sacramento’s beautifully-designed Golden 1 Center, the T-Wolves hit the hardwood to a standing ovation and played in front of a home crowd all night.
“I remember when we ran out for the first time and hearing everyone cheer for us,” Brown recalled. “Knowing this is our home environment and everyone was rooting for us, that was great.”
After claiming their second NorCal title in school history last weekend, and first ever Open Division championship, Woodcreek had the chance to bring home the school’s first ever state title — in any sport.
The basketball program had reached the state finals only one other time. Woodcreek’s assistant coach Duane Hicks was a member of that squad as his team took on Mater Dei and D.J. Strawberry in Arco Arena.
“That was an awesome experience and it was good to relay that to the kids,” Hicks pointed out. “I could say, ‘I’ve been here,’ because a lot of kids can’t relate unless you’ve been there. So we tried to prepare them for this type of environment.”
Despite their preparation, the team fell behind early, digging a 25-5 hole nearly 12 minutes into the game.
The nerves caused poor shooting percentages. The Timberwolves were 1-of-14 in the first period and shooting just 28 percent by halftime.
“I thought we had some decent looks early, but we just didn’t knock them down,” Woodcreek’s coach Paul Hayes acknowledged. “But this team’s been resilient. That’s how they’ve been all year. That’s how we got to the section championship, that’s how we got to NorCals, and boy, they just don’t quit.”
Much as they’ve done all season, the Timberwolves put together a valiant comeback. Jordan Brown and Tyrell Roberts led the charge with 33 second-half points.
Woodcreek outscored Bishop Montgomery 20-16 in the third period and 28-25 in the fourth, but still trailed.
“We knocked down a few big 3s and we were right back in it, but we just couldn’t get that one stop and one shot to catch all the way back up,” Hayes added.
The Timberwolves got within six, 57-51 with 4:12 left in regulation thanks to a Brown sky hook after he beat a double-team on the block. Woodcreek then pulled within five with just under two minutes left thanks to a clutch 3-pointer from senior Jackson Hughes.
“Obviously, nobody on our team was shooting well early on, so I knew that was a shot I needed to hit if we wanted to persevere,” Hughes admitted.
Despite his big shot, Woodcreek was forced to foul down the stretch and the Knights converted 23 of their 29 free throw attempts in the game to seal the state championship.
“We wanted the win badly,” Brown admitted. “Just to put Roseville, NorCal and Sacramento on the map. Even though we came up short, it was a hell of a season.”
Brown scored 35 points, 17 of which came from the free throw line — both Open Division records. He added 17 rebounds and never once stepped off the floor until the final buzzer.
He got a big hug from his coach when he finally did.
“I told all of them to hold their heads up high,” Hayes stated. “I said, ‘Thousands of people came out to support you because everything you’ve done this season, and this loss doesn’t diminish that.’”
The Timberwolves end their prolific season with numerous school records including the best win total ever, an undefeated league season and Woodcreek’s first NorCal Open Division title.
“Each year is special,” Hayes added. “This one was a little bit more just because of what they accomplished and how they did it, but like I’ve always said, ‘their behavior on the court, in the classroom, in the community — they’re a special group and they show a lot of integrity.”
Hayes and his staff will now look ahead to the offseason as they are forced to wave goodbye to six seniors and welcome in the next class of players.
“This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of and they mean the world to me,” Hughes said. “We’re a family and we wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t this close.”