By Stephanie Hammon
SACRAMENTO -- The Bishop O'Dowd High girls basketball team won a third straight regional championship on Saturday, but this time the Dragons needed to beat Northern California's very best teams in order to claim the title.
The Dragons, who cruised to the Division III state championship a year ago, craved the competition of the new Open Division. And they got quite the battle on Saturday at Sleep Train Arena from a St. Mary's-Stockton team playing in its sixth straight NorCal final.
After trailing at halftime, O'Dowd rallied for a 58-50 victory to earn a rematch with Windward-Los Angeles, the only California squad to beat them this season.
The teams will square off in the first ever Open Division state championship game on Saturday at 6 p.m.
"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 next 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.
The Dragons trailed 33-28 at halftime after St. Mary's (31-3) put together a 14-0 run in the second quarter.
"(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.