Manteca overwhelms Bishop O'Dowd, advances to state final
Tydus Verhoeven clutched the winner’s plaque and sank to a seated position at center court.
Later, the plaque made its way around the Manteca High School locker room, starring in tweets and cellphone selfies.
Tired of finishing a close second at every major stop this basketball season, the Buffaloes channeled their pain and frustration into a quintessential performance Saturday, laying claim to a title that will silence their detractors.
With a 70-45 victory over Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, punctuated by a king-sized slam by Kenny Wooten Jr., Manteca sent a stunning announcement to the rest of the state.
While these Buffaloes aren’t Valley Oak League or Sac-Joaquin Section champions, they are the best in Northern California in Division III.
Anand Hundal scored 25 points and Wooten finished with 13 points and 20 rebounds for Manteca (28-6), the last team standing in the Stanislaus District.
“We got a lot of second places,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “We got a second place in the VOL. We got a second place at (Sleep Train Arena). Our guys were hungry. We did not want to be the bridesmaid again. We wanted some hardware.”
Manteca will face Ayala (33-3) of Chino Hills in Thursday’s CIF Division III state final at 4 p.m. at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Long regarded as a football school, Manteca will appear in a state final for the first time in any sport.
The historic ride has been fueled by a series of runner-up finishes. The Buffaloes lost twice to Weston Ranch in the chase for the VOL crown and suffered a third defeat to the Cougars in the section championship game.
With another chance to climb the podium, Manteca used the reigning Open Division champion as a steppingstone.
The NorCal final became a personal proving ground for Hundal, Manteca’s budding 6-foot-9 center, who also had eight rebounds and three blocks. Hundal struggled mightily in the section final but opened aggressively against the Dragons (17-15).
“He was due for one,” Lewis said. “No offense to them, they got some decent big guys, but we knew that was going to be our strength coming into this game. We knew our bigs would be able to score inside.”
Hundal showed his full arsenal, too, even burying a corner three-pointer en route to eight first-quarter points.
“I’ve been struggling lately,” said Hundal, also honored with the sportsmanship award after the game. “Last time in the championship game, I had a really bad game. I let my team down. I knew going into today if I set the tone early, then everybody would follow.”
They did. Verhoeven had 12 points and four rebounds, while postseason hero Dwight Young had eight points and three assists.
The two backcourt mates combined on a dime-and-dunk to end the first half. Young split a double team with a well-timed bounce pass to Verhoeven, who was slicing unmarked to the rim. He finished with a two-handed flush that gave Manteca a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Typical of a title fight, the first half featured 16 lead changes. The second half: None. Manteca outscored the Dragons 43-19.
“The experience we’ve had this year ... we’ve played in so many tough tournaments and played so many top-notch teams,” Verhoeven said. “All of those things have made us ready for these late-game situations. In the second half, we understood we had to separate.”
With its size and athleticism, Manteca made Bishop O’Dowd look its age.
The Dragons arrived in the regional final with a starting lineup that consisted of two sophomores, two juniors and one freshman. The underclassmen, guards Elijah Hardy (five points) and Naseem Gaskin(three points), are among the most highly rated at their position.
While youth served it well in road victories at Weston Ranch and No. 4 Sacred Heart Cathedral, it would be Bishop O’Dowd’s downfall against the Buffaloes.
The Dragons shot 18.8 percent in the second half and went more than seven minutes without a field goal.
The Buffaloes did their part, protecting the rim and clearing misses with Hundal and Wooten – and their 7-foot wingspans. Manteca won the rebounding battle 43-26, while Hundal and Wooten combined for six blocked shots.
“I thought that was the best defensive game we’ve played all year,” Lewis said. “We saved one of the best for last against a good offensive team. Our effort and the numbers that were put up just speaks volumes.”
Manteca had no problems getting into its offense. The Buffaloes started the second half on a 12-4 run to build a nine-point lead. Hundal scored seven during the blitz, and Young beat the third-quarter buzzer with a transition layup.
“That was huge to give us a little momentum going back into the fourth quarter,” Lewis said.
A hook shot by Hundal to start the fourth quarter stretched the lead to 43-32, and the rout was on. Manteca outscored Bishop O’Dowd 29-13 over the final eight minutes, highlighted by Wooten’s two-handed slam over 6-8 Raymond Hawkins.
Wooten finished despite a foul, drawing the Manteca fans to their feet. He sank the free throw to make it 52-33 with 4:41 left.
Bishop O’Dowd coach Lou Ritchie waved the white flag with about two minutes to go, pulling his starters. Lewis answered in kind, emptying his bench.
“We lost in the section, but to bounce back and get this NorCal title and contend for state is huge,” Verhoeven said. “Everyone says, ‘Where’s Manteca at?’ ”
On top, at last.
CIF STATE BASKETBALL
D-V girls – Village Christian vs. Eastside College Prep, 10 a.m.
D-V boys – St. Bernard vs. St. Joseph Notre Dame, noon
D-III girls – Lakeside vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral, 2 p.m.
D-III boys – Ayala vs. Manteca, 4 p.m.
D-I girls – Brea Olinda vs. St. Francis, 6 p.m.
D-I boys – Crespi Carmelite vs. Berkeley, 8 p.m.
D-IV girls – Antelope Valley vs. Cardinal Newman, 10 a.m.
D-IV boys – Harvard-Westlake vs. Palma, noon
D-II girls – Cajon vs. Elk Grove, 2 p.m.
D-II boys – Long Beach Poly vs. Junipero Serra, 4 p.m.
Open Division girls – Chaminade vs. Miramonte, 6 p.m.
Open Division boys – Chino Hills vs. De La Salle, 8 p.m.
Tickets are available through TicketMaster or at the Sleep Train Arena box office. Ticket prices per day start at $16 for adults and $10 for seniors (65 and older), children (5 and older) and students with a valid ASB card.