SAN FRANCISCO — Three meetings between Stuart Hall and University, three tremendous basketball games.
A 53-47 Stuart Hall win on January 8 and a 64-59 Knights victory on January 29 to lock up the BCL West regular season title were both outstanding games, but both paled in comparison to Saturday’s BCL West Tournament Championship, in which the Knights came back from down 17 for a 54-49 win, extending their winning streak to 15 games.
“What a great atmosphere,” head coach Charley Johnson said. “When you have that kind of ultimate team success, it’s more than just the team. It’s the fans, it’s the teachers, it’s the faculty, the bus drivers, facility people, everyone. I think a lot of that community was on display tonight.”
That community is usually packed into postage stamp-sized gyms at the two schools, but with Saturday’s league championship at Kezar Pavilion, far more spectators were able to get in on the fun, and many of the white-clad Stuart Hall fans stormed the court to celebrate the improbable comeback.
Tomas Wolber played a huge hand in the comeback, with a pair of 3-pointers and an assist during a 13-0 run in the third quarter and three straight assists to give Stuart Hall (24-4) the lead in the fourth, including an alley-oop to Miles Amos to put the Knights ahead for the first time.
“We talked about the NorCal Championship from last year where we were down 17,” Wolber said. “We knew if we could do it then, we could do it now. We came out with energy, and everything flowed.”
The alley-oop was the gutsiest play call in a game where the Knights showed a ton of heart. The prior games in which they had gotten behind by double-digits all ended in losses, including a 32-point beatdown by Riordan, and Saturday marked the first time they had trailed by nine points in the calendar year.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” Johnson said.
University (19-9) held a 21-9 advantage through a quarter and opened that lead to 17 early in the second on a Ren Zanze 3-pointer. The Red Devils would hold 17-point leads on four occasions in the period, the last of which came at 33-16 on a basket in the paint by Max Fried with 90 seconds left in the opening half. They’d still lead by 15 at the break after The Hall got two free throws by Nigel Burris.
“Our urgency was really low and they hit a lot of great shots,” Burris said.
Even when the Knights opened the third quarter with baskets from Amos and Alex Byrd, it looked like University was primed to pull away for good after restoring momentum on a 3-pointer from Charley Moore that rolled around for what seemed like an eternity before going in and another basket from Fried. That’s when things finally started to click for Stuart Hall with the 13-0 run. Another Zanze 3-pointer briefly stopped the momentum, but Spencer O’Brien-Steele, the only bright spot for the Knights in the first half, closed the third quarter with another layup to cut it to 41-37.
O’Brien-Steele, who finished with 12 points, scored six in the first quarter and eight in the opening half. He missed almost all of December with ankle injuries and has been coming off the bench since making his return, but his performance as of late has him seeing as much time as the starters.
“At first, not being a starter kind of bothered me, but I took it as what it is and I’m content with my spot right now,” he said. “I think we’re playing well as a team as a result of it.”
After neither team could score in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter, he scored off an inbound pass from Wolber to cut the lead to two, and a full-court pass from Wolber led to Burris tying the game off a spin move. The 15th-ranked Knights then took the lead on an Amos alley-oop that nearly blew the roof off the old barn, and the lead grew to give on Wolber’s third 3-pointer of the second half.
“They ramped up the physicality on the defensive side of the ball, and the threes they hit in the second half were the difference,” University head coach Randy Bessolo said. “The combination of that and their defensive pressure took us out of our offensive flow, and it’s why the game turned the way it did.”
Over the final five minutes, the 20th-ranked Devils would only get off one shot with a deficit of less than five points. Trailing 48-45, a contested look by Fried in the lane with 1:20 left missed, and with Amos and Byrd combining to hit all six of their free throws in the final 39 seconds, the game wouldn’t even come down to the final possession.
Fried still finished with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, but University was left without any sort of a BCL championship, regular season or tournament, for just the second time in the last 12 years.
“This is a dose of humble pie for us,” Bessolo said.
There’s certainly a chance of a fourth meeting, likely also at Kezar, as the teams are the top two seeds in the NCS Division V bracket.
Zanze and Raki Cabrera-Scarlata each scored nine for University, while Amos had 10 of his 13 in the second half. Burris, only a sophomore, led all scorers with 18 points.
Girls: Lick-Wilmerding 60, Urban 50
The Tigers closed the first quarter on a 17-0 run and led by double-digits for almost the entirety of the second half to win a second consecutive BCL West Tournament title. Freshman Annabel Schneiberg scored a game-high 20 points and sophomore Ava Grey scored all of her 11 in the second quarter, in which Lick-Wilmerding (22-5) led by as much as 16 after the last of Grey’s three 3-pointers.
Urban (16-10) did close the lead to 54-48 in the fourth quarter on a Samantha Wong and-1, but Schneiberg found sophomore Daisy Maunupau in the lane to put the Tigers back up by eight on the following possession.
“Our exterior offense has always been there,” head coach Daniel Tesfai said. “I think this tournament showed that our inside game can show up, too. With a couple touches here and there, they build some confidence, and they get the easiest looks because everyone’s so focused on the guards.”
Maunupau scored 10 and Samantha Foong, one of two seniors on the roster, scored 13. Maia Pedrosa scored 16 for the Blues, who don’t have any seniors, and Rain Sheh added 14.