Every player and every coach dressed in school-colors teal, black and white expected to be here, to storm back into another Sac-Joaquin Section championship final.
The Sheldon Huskies have the makings of one of the region’s greatest teams with an abundance of guards, depth, defense and skill. But if they do not clean up fundamental mistakes that earlier this season they solved, they may not even enter March as the section’s top team.
The top-seeded Huskies offered enough to get past pesky fifth-seeded Oak Ridge on Wednesday night, registering a 64-54 Division I semifinal victory in an overflow setting in south Sacramento.
An all-guard starting lineup of Xavion and Xavier Brown, Justin Nguyen, Kaito Williams and Josh Williams flustered Oak Ridge with aggressive man defense, and they made enough passes and shots to stake a 53-32 lead late in the third quarter.
But forced passes, missed dunks and spotty clock management irked the considerable ire of the coaches, namely head man Joey Rollings, a taskmaster on fundamentals. But the effort was there, and so is a chance at redemption.
Sheldon (25-6) will face third-seeded Modesto Christian (25-6) on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. Modesto Christian beat No. 2 Folsom 68-50 in the other semifinal.
It’s the eighth finals appearance for the Huskies this decade. Rollings seeks the program’s fifth banner in that stretch and sixth overall. This is the defending CIF Northern California Open Division champion, but it didn’t play like it at times against Oak Ridge.
“Clock management,” Rollings said. “We have to play smarter. These kids have played so much basketball together. They can be better. We have to be better.”
Williams had 13 points and Xavion and Xavier Brown 12 each. They aren’t related, but their talents are similar.
Nguyen had nine points, and Josh Williams - a ball of energy - had six rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots. Xavier Brown had five rebounds and six assists.
Defense is the key here, always.
“If we don’t play defense, we sit and we don’t play,” Williams said. “It’s what coach demands. We like to harass other teams with our defense and get after it. We know we can get steals and buckets. And we know we can play a lot better.”
Sheldon was the section’s top-ranked team entering the season and then got a boost with the arrival of two transfers. But injuries have stalled things for those two - 6-foot-11 Josh Morgan and 6-8 Marcus Bagley.
Morgan is done for the season, undone by a dislocated kneecap last month. He played in just 15 games.
Bagley, brother of Kings star rookie Marvin Bagley III, has been slowed of late by a sore back. The national-recruit junior has yet to see time in any of Sheldon’s three playoff routs.
Bagley provides an extra blast of entertainment for a Huskies team big on such things. Rollings allows his team to freelance a bit on offense - alley-oop dunks - but lazy effort or gaffes bring him off the bench in a huff.
Sheldon missed three dunks, though Xavion Brown was emphatic on making his two dunks. Bagley is a complete player, a passer, defender, shooter and remarkable dunker (he’s also a fine student and very much liked on campus and on the team).
Sheldon has drawn sell-out crowds at home and on the road and will surely be a draw at Golden 1.
“Marcus is day-to-day with the back,” Rollings said.
Oak Ridge (19-12) is not finished, either.
The Trojans will advance to the CIF NorCal Division I playoffs - the Open Division is reserved for the state-ranked powers. Superbly coached by Rich Sondhi, Oak Ridge was led by Jacob Brown’s 25 against Sheldon.
The Trojans came in having upset No. 4-seeded Jesuit 63-59 in a quarterfinal.
Grant 63, Sacramento 60 - A.J. McGee and David Jones scored 14 points each, and DeeJuan Pruitt had 13 to power the top-seeded Pacers past rival and No. 5 Sacramento in a Division II semifinal in Del Paso Heights.
Grant (24-6) overcame eight goal-tending calls to earn a rematch with No. 3 St. Mary’s of Stockton (17-13) in the final. The Rams beat Grant 66-56 in last season’s final at Pacific, though Grant recovered to reach the NorCal D-II semifinals, a six-point loss to Alameda.
St. Mary’s beat Rio Americano 59-44 in the other semifinal.
Liberty Ranch 72, Ripon 51 - Jalen Patterson had 25 points and Isaac Padilla 24 to guide the top-seeded Hawks of Galt past No. 4 Ripon in a Division IV semifinal in Galt. Liberty Ranch (29-2) plays No. 2 Sonora on Friday at 4 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. Sonora topped defending champion West Campus 93-87 in overtime.