The final score of the Montgomery Vikings-Ukiah Wildcats game on Saturday night was still on the scoreboard at Monday’s practice.
I don’t think it was up there on purpose, but it might have served one — because all afternoon, coach Darryl LaBlue was reminding his players that they are in the semifinal round of the North Coast Section Division 2 tournament for a reason, that if they play within themselves they can compete with anyone. But he also reminded them that as of this moment, the road gets considerably bumpier.
The Vikings have breezed through the first two rounds of playoffs. They dispatched Ukiah 52-39 in the quarterfinal round, but Wednesday's game — tipoff is 5:30 p.m. — will be a different kettle of fish altogether.
On Wednesday the 24-6 Vikings, ranked No. 3 in Division 2, travel to take on No. 2 Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland. The Dragons are 17-10 overall but went 10-0 in the West Alameda County-Foothill League, a league they have utterly dominated for more than a decade.
The trick is preparing for a tough team without getting intimidated or overwhelmed by the assignment.
“This will definitely be a challenge,” LaBlue said. “The nice thing is, if you want to be the best, you have to play the best.”
O’Dowd won the section title in Division 3 five years in a row between 2009-2013 and went to the title game the past three years before officials had seen enough and bumped them up to Division 2 this season.
“They play up in your face, pressure, double teams, multiple presses,” LaBlue said. “They do full court, half court. They are very good at what they do.”
But LaBlue says the Vikings are good at what they do, too. They just have to remember that. They have decent height and they have athleticism. Their offensive attack is balanced.
“It just comes down to settling in. Can you play your game?” he asked his team Monday at practice as they worked the bulk of the session on beating press pressure.
The Vikings are led by senior Shayla Newman’s nearly 12 points per game and almost eight rebounds. It’s slightly off her junior average of 15 points per game and 10 rebounds, but the Vikings offense has been more balanced and varied this season.
“It’s definitely been a different year for Shayla,” LaBlue said. “She is going to end her high school career with over 1,100 rebounds and 1,400 points. Not too many high school kids can do that. To me, the rebounding is impressive.”
Against Bishop O’Dowd, Newman’s ability to grab rebounds and keep the Dragons from getting second chances will be crucial.
So, too, will be the floor leadership of junior guard McKenzie Weinmann. Weinmann is averaging five points per game and also handing out nearly four assists per contest. Limiting turnovers against the frenzied defense of Bishop O’Dowd is a priority.
“I think Bishop has a lot of quickness on the team,” Weinmann said. “I think we need to physically prepare ourselves in that way and mentally also prepare ourselves because I think our team kind of gets caught up in ‘Oh, they are really good.’”
LaBlue said the first quarter will be key. The Bishop O’Dowd gym will likely be packed — the No. 1 seed boys team hosts No. 4 Alameda afterward at 7 p.m.
NCS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
(seedings in parentheses)
All tipoffs 7 p.m. unless noted
(1) Laytonville vs. (4) Jewish Community
(3) Montgomery vs. (2) Bishop O’Dowd, 5:30 p.m.
(2) Cardinal Newman vs. (3) Eureka
(4) Clear Lake at (1) Urban
(1) Rincon Valley Christian vs. (4) Emery
(2) Laytonville vs. (3) California School for the Deaf, 5:30 p.m.