ALBANY A favorable new trend of late among high school boys basketball heavies is to actually meet on the court and decide things fair and square.
That has become increasingly more significant this season with the introduction of the CIF Open Division playoffs in March, after the state's 10 sections complete their tournaments. The Open playoffs will pit the best against the best.
Saturday in the East Bay, MaxPreps Northern California No. 1 Salesian of Richmond held off Bee No. 1 and NorCal No. 3 Sheldon 69-60 in a game dripping of Open rematch intrigue.
The only downer here both teams and a full crowd at Albany High School agreed was the three-man officiating crew that has become something of the norm for big prep showdowns. With an extra man in stripes comes an extra flurry of calls. Both coaches bemoaned the officiating and the 44 total calls.
But make no mistake. Nationally recognized Salesian (21-3) is the real deal, every bit as good as advertised with superb ball handlers, team defense and an over-the-top talent in guard Jabari Bird.
The 6-foot-6 Bird, headed to Cal, had 22 points and eight rebounds. He was shut out in the first quarter, thanks to strong defense by Darin Johnson, but he broke free.
Bird soared for three dunks and showed his overall game by snatching two offensive rebounds for late putbacks to provide ample breathing room for Salesian.
Bird's first putback and three-point play gave the Pride a 58-53 lead with 3:04 to play, and his long offensive rebound and fadeaway put his team in front 60-53 as Salesian gave the Huskies (18-5) just their second in-state loss this season.
The other setback was in December to NorCal No. 2 Mitty of San Jose, a team that was later beaten by Salesian.
Salesian and Sheldon expect to see each other again.
Both teams have a regular season to finish, and to qualify for the prestigious Open, they must be repeat section champions. Sheldon seeks a Sac-Joaquin Section record four-peat in Division I, and the Huskies still have to clear rival and Bee No. 2 Pleasant Grove in the expected Delta River League championship later this month.
Salesian is 90-7 the last three seasons in playing a national schedule.
"If we win our section, we may get a No. 2 or 3 seed behind Salesian," Sheldon coach Joey Rollings said. "We'll probably see them again. This will fire us up. We didn't play well. But for as bad as we played, and for it to be a seven-point game
"We'd rather lose now than later. We'll learn from this."
Sheldon was out of sorts in the first half in being held to a season-low 21 points at the break.
Fast-break passes just missed. Three-point shots rimmed out. Free throws hit the front of the rim.
Sheldon played tired, but Salesian also wears out teams with its defense.
Guard Markel Leonard scored 14 points for Salesian.
Dakarai Allen led Sheldon with 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Johnson scored 14 points and Antonio Lewis 11.
D'Erryl Williams scored eight points for Sheldon, including a three-pointer to get his team within 64-57 with 50.1 seconds left. A Lewis three cut the lead to 67-60.