SACRAMENTO -- The Bishop O'Dowd High girls basketball team was tested by St. Mary's-Stockton in the Northern California Open Division championship game on March 16, but prevailed 58-50 at Sleep Train Arena.
Now the Dragons will face their biggest test yet, as they face Windward-Los Angeles in the CIF Open Division state championship game on March 23 at 6 p.m., back at Sleep Train Arena.
Windward is 32-0 and is the only California team to beat Bishop O'Dowd this season, as it earned a 58-43 victory over the Dragons on Dec. 29 at the Oaks Christian Invitational. The Wildcats are ranked in the top 5 nationally by several publications.
Bishop O'Dowd had to work just to get to the prestigious state final, trailing 33-28 at halftime after St. Mary's (31-3) put together a 14-0 run in the second quarter.
"They showed their heart tonight and didn't buckle under the pressure," said O'Dowd coach Malik McCord, who added that the Dragons still need a win this weekend to complete their goal for the season.
O'Dowd (29-3), which features four Division-I bound seniors, handled St. Mary's 80-59 at home last month while leading big nearly the entire way. But the rematch was close throughout.
"(St. Mary's) wanted it more the first half," McCord said. "They were getting all the 50-50 balls and we just weren't aggressive. We came out flat."
Asha Thomas scored 11 of her 16 points in the third quarter to help spark the Dragons. The sophomore guard hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minutes of the period to put O'Dowd up for good, and the Dragons gave themselves some breathing room down the stretch with a 6-0 run midway through the final period.
As usual, the Dragons had a distinct size advantage. Oderah Chidom, a 6-foot-4 forward bound for Duke, scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. K.C. Waters, a forward headed to Cal, also had 12 rebounds as the Dragons cleaned up on the boards for a 52-23 advantage.
St. Mary's didn't employ its typical relentless full-court pressure defense to avoid giving up easy buckets to the bigger Dragons.
"When you're fighting at such a height disadvantage you have to work around so many obstacles," said St. Mary's coach Tom Gonsalves. "Man, I was so impressed with (my players)."
Freshman Kat Tudor scored 14 points to lead the Rams, hitting all three of her team's 3-pointers. St. Mary's, a team that relies on its outside shooting, shot just 3 of 20 from beyond the arc.