Experience, talent helped Bishop O’Dowd derail undefeated Miramonte in their much-anticipated title clash.
By CLAY KALLAM | Contributor
Sometimes nothing weighs a lot.
Miramonte’s girls’ basketball team went into the North Coast Section Division III championship game March 3 with “28” on one side and “0” on the other — that is, 28 wins and zero losses.
Bishop O’Dowd was the top seed, despite having three losses, but it was no secret to anyone that the Matadors’ undefeated season was part of the equation.
“’Pressure’ is an understatement,” said Miramonte senior wing Devon McDonald after the game, “the whole undefeated thing.”
And the Mats were playing in their backyard, at St. Mary’s College, out to prove that what outsiders said about their “weak” schedule and “lack of challenging opponents” simply missed the mark. After all, Miramonte had a 20-point win over Division I finalist Deer Valley, two wins over Dougherty Valley, a D-II power, and had rolled through the tough DFAL without a loss.
On the other side of the scorer’s table was Bishop O’Dowd, a team many believed was the most talented in the Bay Area. Posts K.C. Waters, Oderah Chidom and Breanna Brown — all juniors, all 6-1 or taller, and all clearly bound for power conference college programs — give the Dragons an unmatched inside presence.
Last year, though, point guard Ariell Bostick had to do almost all the ballhandling herself, and as a sophomore, she went through the ups and downs that all young point guards must endure. But this year, O’Dowd doubled up with a pair of freshman guards, Asha Thomas and Aisia Robertson, who changed the equation in the Dragons’ backcourt.
“Oh man, I love them,” said Bostick of the freshmen, who helped her shred Miramonte’s previously impervious press in an impressive, no-doubt-about-it 73-49 win.
In the second half, when the game turned, O’Dowd coach Malik McCord often had all three point guards on the court at the same time, and they put on a ballhandling and decision-making show.
“It changes our game a lot,” said McCord of the young guns. “They’re very mature for freshmen and they make good decisions. It’s really hard to press us.”
And since a variety of presses had been Miramonte’s calling card through all those 28 wins, the Matadors were forced to try to make up for the lack of an effective press in other areas.
“Against a team of O’Dowd’s quality,” said Miramonte coach Kelly Sopak, “you have to do the things you do well. They’re going to do things well, so you have to match that.”
The Mats did not.
With the score 20-17 early in the second quarter, Miramonte had been going to the basket, despite O’Dowd’s size.
“We had to keep taking it to the basket and getting fouls,” said Miramonte guard Carly Gill, and the Mats did just that. But it’s one thing to get to the foul line, and another to make the shots. Miramonte missed seven straight free throws in the second quarter, and were just eight of 19 in the first half.
“We play at such a high energy level that sometimes it’s hard to relax,” said McDonald. “Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and put everything behind and focus on that one shot.”
Still, Miramonte was within three with 3:58 left in the second quarter, thanks in great part to the hot start of senior wing Taylor Kizziee, who finished with a game-high 18 points. However, an 8-1 run over the next two minutes — which featured a spectacular tip pass off a loose ball from freshman Thomas to senior post Margaret Huntington — put O’Dowd up ten, and it never got any closer.
“We had a game plan from the beginning,” said Bostick. “We watched film, and then we executed on defense. We knew they like to trap a lot, so we wanted to get the ball to the middle — and the gaps were wide open, so we attacked the gaps.”
“We work on our mistakes, we watch film, we break down every play,” said Chidom. “We’re all used to the championship mindset.”
Well, almost everyone. The freshmen, after all, haven’t been in these situations before.
“They’re not like normal freshmen,” pointed out Chidom. “They’re confident — when I was a freshman, I was nervous every single game.”
Thomas conceded she was nervous, but then she added coolly, “You’ll always be nervous for games like this.”
Miramonte was nervous, too.
“We were all excited for this,” said Kizziee, “and we may have gotten a little too excited in the first half. We haven’t had competition at this level, and we were all excited to play. We got out of playing as a team for a second in the second half, they went on a run, and it was hard to get it back.”
Despite the O’Dowd domination of the second half, the Miramonte players would like nothing better than another shot at the Dragons.
“We didn’t go into that game thinking we would lose,” said Kizziee.
Consider the Matadors more than ready for the rematch — which could happen if both teams advance to the NorCal finals at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento March 17.
“We’re really hoping to get better in the next two weeks and come back at them,” said Gill.
McDonald echoed that sentiment.
“I’m excited to play them again, and I hope we play them again,” the senior said. “I think the second round, we can give them a go.”
Especially with the weight of zero off their backs.
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