ATHERTON, Calif. — Ever since the California Interscholastic Federation introduced a competitive equity format for the state basketball tournament in 2018, upsets have been commonplace. With 85 teams in Northern California ranked and split into six divisions, a 1 versus 16 matchup typically means the top team in a bracket is hosting one ranked 15 spots below them, rather than one that barely squeaked into the tournament at all.
When the Lick-Wilmerding girls were given the 16 seed in Division III on Sunday, their placement was met with utter amazement. After a season in which they lost just two games, for the Tigers to play their entire postseason on the road was nothing short of a total shock. The top seed in that bracket? A Menlo-Atherton team they owned a head-to-head victory against in the regular season.
Add all that up, and it should be no surprise that Lick-Wilmerding emerged victorious on Wednesday night, topping the Bears 46-43 in overtime.
“We face adversity with our heads up,” sophomore point guard Dominique Cabading said. “We don’t think we’re a 16 seed, but it made us work harder.”
Cabading’s drive to the basket with a minute left in overtime put Lick-Wilmerding (29-2) ahead for good, and she hit two free throws with 21.2 seconds left to extend the lead. With stifling defense on the final possession, the Bears couldn’t even get a shot off until after the horn.
“I know everyone hears it over and over again, but defense wins games, and that’s why we won,” head coach Daniel Tesfai said.
Trailing 20-12 late in the second quarter, the Tigers locked in on the defensive end, closing the first half on an 8-3 run and allowing a single point in the third, which didn’t come until a Nicolette Yeh free throw with 15.7 seconds left in the quarter. Lick-Wilmerding would stay in front for most of the fourth, going up 37-31 on a Cabading 3-pointer, but after pulling off a 15-point comeback in Saturday’s CCS Division I Championship Game, the Bears weren’t done. Alyssa Faberowski, who hit the winning shot in Saturday’s win over Palo Alto, brought Menlo-Atherton (17-11) within two on a 3-pointer with 1:10 left, and Yeh made a perfect pass to Malia Latu for the game-tying layup with 10.1 to go.
Latu would finish with 18 points and 16 rebounds, scoring the final field goal of her junior season a minute into OT, and the Bears would go up four on a pair of Yeh free throws with 2:26 left. The Tigers would tie things up at the line, with Kailee Mahlstedt-Kamekona and Annabel Schneiberg each hitting a pair to bring the teams even at 42.
Schneiberg, battling a knee injury she suffered in last week’s NCS Division 4 Semifinal loss to St. Mary’s-Albany, had nine points and nine rebounds.
“She’s probably the best player we’ve played all year,” Bears head coach Steve Yob said of the sophomore.
Latu would make one of two free throws to put the hosts back in front with 1:09 left, but Cabading’s slash to the hoop and pair of free throws would seal the victory, arguably one of the least surprising wins for a 16 seed in basketball history.
“We knew right away,” Yob said of the challenges his team faced.
Through the final moments of the defeat and postgame talk in the locker room, the Bears never seemed too disheartened by the outcome.
“Whether we won or lost tonight, our season was made with a CCS championship,” Yob said after his first season leading the Bears came to a conclusion. “If you told us to start the season we’d be CCS champions, we’d all take that.”
The Tigers will once again hit the road on Thursday, paying a visit to eighth-seeded Aptos (26-4).