Ivan Rabb's back was tight, El Cerrito's physical and fast style was creating problems, and Bishop O'Dowd High just generally wasn't playing well in the first half of the North Coast Section Division III boys basketball final.
"It was our worst half of the year," O'Dowd coach Lou Richie said. "We definitely weren't playing smart basketball, we weren't playing physical."
But after an inspiring halftime speech by assistant coach Mike Bannister, the Dragons seized control to beat El Cerrito 89-69 on March 8 at Saint Mary's College for their third consecutive section title.
Rabb, O'Dowd's star junior forward, finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds as the Dragons turned a two-point halftime lead into a blowout.
"We had a pretty good speech and I just got real motivated," Rabb said. "(Coach Bannister) told us to go out and play like we normally do, to play harder than we normally do, and it worked."
Paris Austin helped the Dragons (26-4) surge ahead for good in the third quarter when he scored eight of his 17 points.
O'Dowd players gave their title medals to the school's girls team, which was disqualified from the NCS playoffs for playing more than the allotted regular season games and didn't get the chance to play for a sixth-straight title.
"The girls will remember that for the rest of their lives and hopefully the young men will, too," Richie said. "Way to show selflessness."
O'Dowd put the game away at the foul line, going 19 for 28 in the second half as three Gauchos fouled out. El Cerrito (28-4) was whistled for 33 fouls, and O'Dowd just 16.
Bishop O'Dowd received the No. 1 seed for the CIF Northern regional Open Division playoffs. The Dragons received a first round bye and will host the winner of the March 14 first round game between Modesto Christian and Newark Memorial on March 18.
McClymonds 57, Skyline 21: The Warriors (16-12) avenged two regular-season defeats at the hands of the Titans (20-8) to win the Oakland Section title game at Laney College on March 6. It was McClymonds' second straight section championship.
The Warriors' Da'Ja'Nay Powell was dominant with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Angela Lee added 17 points and eight rebounds for McClymonds. Darrien Washington paced Skyline with 10 points.
McClymonds point guard Gabby Gaines, who missed both games against Skyline during the Oakland Athletic League season, scored 11 points and hit three 3-point shots.
"We came out harder and more determined than they did," Gaines said.
The Warriors led from the start, leading 20-8 at the end of the first quarter and 37-10 at the half. Skyline was still playing a rather loose man defense in the third period, and McClymonds simply took time off the clock before attempting a shot.
Meanwhile, the Titans' offense struggled, scoring only three points total in the second and third quarters.
Both teams played in the first round of the CIF Northern regional playoffs on March 12 after this newspaper went to press. McClymonds, the No. 6 seed, played No. 11 Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove at Laney College and No. 13 Skyline played at No. 4 Berkeley.
-- Scott Strain, correspondent