If Cal was a test run for any longtime consideration for the CIF State Basketball Championships, it passed with flying colors.
Haas Pavilion provided a cozy, festive look and feel Friday and Saturday as the venue held in crowd and band noise, which coincided with a lot of games that went to the wire, including three to double overtime. The atmosphere contrasted the spacious Sleep Train Arena, a fixture for prep basketball title rounds for the better part of 25 years.
“Oh my, it’s been great here,” said Roger Blake, CIF executive director. “Bands, fans, it’s loud with energy. This is what high school championships should be like.”
Sleep Train wasn’t available this weekend due to the Garth Brooks concerts, but it will host the Sac-Joaquin Section, Northern California and state finals next season to conclude a three-year contract.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. The downtown arena is planned to open in the fall of 2016, and the state-of-the-art facility is sure to attract the NCAA Tournament, much like Sleep Train Arena did in the 1990s and 2000s before the building was deemed antiquated. As is the norm for all prep championship events, the deciding factors for Blake’s office comes down to finances and bids: who offers the best facilities for the best price?
Blake said he’s discussed with Kings executives what possibilities the new arena could present for prep events.
“The Kings have told me that they want to keep the high school games there,” Blake said. “The Kings have always been high-school friendly.”
Oracle Arena, home of the Warriors, hosted the CIF finals 13 times, the last time in 1991, before the CIF felt priced out.
Lasting roar – McClatchy trailed 9-1 and 14-3 early Friday against Serra of Gardena in the Division I girls championship. Then the Lions led by 10 with 1:11 to go in regulation, the big play of that stretch coming on a Gigi Garcia jumper in the lane as the shot clock expired, the ball bouncing five times on the rim and falling through for a 43-36 lead. Serra rallied with a three-pointer and a dead-ball foul on the same play, making for a five-point swing, and later forced overtime when Briana Johnson made a 24-foot three at the buzzer.
“When she hit it, I just realized that she made a great shot,” Lions guard Kelsey Wong said. “I knew we were OK.”
Summarized coach Jessica Kunisaki, “The key was no one broke down or started pointing fingers when we gave up the lead. What a crazy game. I told my kids, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to go play extra minutes in your last game?’”
Coaching moment – Soaking in the action throughout Friday night, anxious like everyone else, was Harvey Tahara. The distinguished Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame coach who on Tuesday was presented the Pete Saco Lifetime Achievement award, hand-picked Kunisaki as his coaching replacement in 2011. She insisted then that she wasn’t ready, that she was too young at 24. He insisted she was ready. The old coach was right, and history followed. An emotional Kunisaki was embraced by Tahara on the bench after Friday’s game, and she thanked her mentor for believing in her.
CIF STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
D-V girls: La Jolla Country Day 40, Eastside College Prep 36
D-V boys: Sierra Canyon 80, University-San Francisco 55
D-III girls: Bishop O’Dowd 55, Brea Olinda 40
D-III boys: Damien 70,
D-I girls: McClatchy 65,
Serra-Gardena 61 (2 OT)
D-I boys: San Ramon Valley 79, Chino Hills 71 (2 OT)
D-IV girls: Sierra Canyon 69, Brookside Christian 56
D-IV boys: Crespi 47,
Capital Christian 44
D-II girls: Archbishop Mitty 53, Keppel 31
D-II boys: La Mirada 71,
Archbishop Mitty 70
Open girls: St. Mary’s-Stockton 76, Mater Dei 69
Open boys: Bishop O’Dowd 65, Mater Dei 64 (OT)
See a photo gallery from Saturday’s Capital Christian game. sacbee.com/sports