Woodcreek fights back, beats Oakmont for section title

Timberwolves survive 11-point first half output
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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When you get a chance to put away a great team like Woodcreek, you had better do it because they won’t stay down for long. That was a lesson learned by the Oakmont High boys basketball team Saturday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II tournament championship game. The Vikings got out to an early lead while Woodcreek uncharacteristically struggled offensively, and never trailed until a Nik Milani 3-pointer with 2:26 to play put Woodcreek on top 42-41. The Timberwolves went on to pull out a 45-44 victory and earn the section title for the second time in the school’s history. The problem for the Vikings is that while they were holding the Timberwolves to just 11 first-half points, they only scored 18 of their own. “We felt at halftime like we gave away some chances in the first half,” said Oakmont coach Rick Campbell. “They (Woodcreek) missed some shots they usually make, but we turned the ball over too much in transition and we felt like we should have had a bigger lead.” That they did not have a bigger lead proved their undoing as Woodcreek had just enough down the stretch to knock off Oakmont for the fourth time this season. “Blame the first half on me and give the boys all of the credit for the second half,” said Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton. “I think we were playing a little not to lose early, but they played really well in the second half.” For a team that averages more than 72 points a game, the 11-point first half was a major departure for Woodcreek. There were some defensive highlights at both ends, with Woodcreek center Mike Kurtz swatting five Oakmont shots and 6-foot-6 Viking forward J.T. Adenrele turning away three Timberwolf attempts. “We were not moving on offense,” said forward Nik Stathopoulos. “We were stagnant, but when you hold them to 18 points in the half, that is good defense.” The Timberwolves were still stuck on zero until there were 35 seconds left in the initial stanza. To that point, Oakmont had run off the game’s first 10 points, with seniors Alex Ford and Tony Gill each posting a four in the first quarter. The second quarter was not much better, but with Gill picking up his second foul midway through the period, the Vikings saw their offense disappear. Other that a pair of J.T. Adenrele buckets, Oakmont did not do much until Fred Mobley went end-to-end for a lay-up at the halftime horn to put the Vikings up seven points at 18-11. Stathopoulos scored a couple of baskets early in the second stanza to finally get something going for the Timberwolves, but Milani and Ryan Milat, two of Woodcreek’s big offensive guys, combined for one Milani free throw before the break. “I am the guy who is moving around and playing a role,” Stathopoulos said. “The other teams know about Milat, Milani and Kurtz. In the first half, Nik’s shot wasn’t going and I have to credit those guys for getting me the ball.” A good sign for the Vikings coming out of the locker room at the half was the early shooting success of Ford. A streaky outside shooter who can bury opponents when he is on, the senior guard scored seven in the third to help Oakmont stay just out of reach of the Timberwolves. The bad news for Oakmont was the arrival of Milani’s offense. His five third-quarter points included a 3-pointer that was just a precursor to what was coming later. “I think I messed him up a little tonight,” Pinkerton said. “We wanted to get him going inside like we did the other night, but they just were not giving him anything in there. At the half I told him just to go out and play.” Trailing 31-26 heading into the final eight minutes, Woodcreek did not hit a single two-point basket in the fourth, but it was behind the arc and at the free throw line that it found a way to get the win. The Timberwolves got close at 32-30, but Gill turned a nice low-post move into a traditional three-point play to provide a little separation. With 5:35 to play, Ford splashed home a 3-pointer that put Oakmont back up eight, but Milani would not let that stand. After Gill picked up his fourth foul 20 seconds later, the Timberwolves turned to their 6-4 senior forward. “There is a reason he a top player in our league,” Campbell said. “Nik Milani does things like that. We knew they had a run in them, and our guys played their hearts out. We did all we could do but he beat us in the second half.” In the 90 seconds that followed Gill’s fourth foul and trip to the bench, the Timberwolves made up an eight-point margin. Milat was first to step up, hitting a trey to cut the margin to 38-33. After that, Milani hit three consecutive three-point lasers that eventually took his team to a one-point lead. Adenrele managed one basket after the first two Milani 3-pointers tied the contest at 39-39, but the Woodcreek star had the answer with a third three-ball that gave the Timberwolves their first lead of the night. Stathopoulos followed that with a pair of free throws to stretch the Woodcreek advantage to three points. After Gill turned a strong offensive rebound into two points to cut the lead back to a single point, Woodcreek point guard Ryan Sondhi hit one of two free throws and left the door open for Oakmont. Gill was fouled with 11 seconds remaining, but missed the first before dropping the second through, leaving the Vikings down one. “Give me our team down two with Tony on the line in that situation and I will take it every time,” Campbell said. The 6-8 center is a very strong free throw shooter, but in a game like this one, even the best shooters have a lot going on. After the miss, Oakmont fouled Kurtz and the Woodcreek center, a reliable shooter in his own right, missed the front end of a one-and-one. Gill snagged the rebound, and with the Vikings down one with 10 seconds on the clock, the team was in position for another dramatic late victory. The difference was that tonight there was a one-point deficit, while Thursday’s game against Fairfield was tied on the final possession. As they had done Thursday, Oakmont passed on calling timeout and put the ball in Mobley’s hands to create something at the offensive end. The result, a contested Gill shot from the top of the key, did not work out as well as this one hit the rim but bounced away, making champions of Woodcreek. Oakmont (22-7) was led by Ford’s 15 points, while Gill scored 12 with 12 rebounds. Adenrele scored 11 points, grabbed seven boards and blocked six shots. The Vikings season is not over as they await Sunday’s posting of the brackets for the CIF Northern California championship tournament that begins Tuesday. For Woodcreek (26-5), whose only other boys basketball title came in 2003, a high seed in that tournament awaits as the Timberwolves set their sites on the next level. “When the season ended, we went back to 0-0,” said Woodcreek forward Derek Anganes. “We are now 4-0 in this season and moving on to the next season.” Milani scored 15 in the second half to post 16 points for the game. Stathopoulos tallied 11 points for the Timberwolves and Kurtz had 10 points to go with 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots.