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Slow start dooms University in Bambauer Classic championship

Folsom point guard Micah Johnston (2) defends University guard Cole Boake (10) during a non-league basketball game in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

By all means, the 26th Bambauer Classic was an excellent showing for the University Red Devils, who picked up a landmark quarterfinal win over Serra and blasted host Marin Catholic in the semifinals.

But the tournament championship still remained elusive.

The Red Devils found themselves staring at a 22-5 deficit after a quarter against the Folsom Bulldogs, and while they did manage to trim a 24-point gap down to nine, they could get no closer as the Sacramento power claimed the title, 84-71.

The Folsom Bulldogs celebrate after winning the Bambauer Classic in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

“We came out satisfied and were reveling in some of the success we had in the first three days,” head coach Randy Bessolo said of his team’s slow start. “I don’t think we realized how good they were until the game started, and it sort of snowballed on us.”

A night after knocking down 15 threes in an 87-41 romp over Marin Catholic, University (11-3) connected just once from deep in the entire first half against the Bulldogs, who used their size and length to contest every outside look.

“Size makes a big difference,” Bessolo said. “In modern basketball, the three’s a lot more important, but size still makes a difference, and they have size at all five positions. It’s positionless size, and it’s versatile size.”

Folsom (13-1) rotated players effortlessly around the perimeter, even with big man Cade Petersen out after injuring his ankle in the first quarter of a semifinal win against Lincoln. Justin Ard, Micah Johnston, Mitchell Rawlins, tournament MVP CJ Willenborg and David Young combined to give the Devils fits, with freshman Myles Jones and Chase Rawlins providing support off the bench.

University made just one field goal in the first quarter, and the Bulldogs led 24-5 before Luke Bradley finally broke the 3-pointer drought. A Willenborg 3-pointer made it 38-15, and a Jones floater sent Folsom into halftime up 42-20.

Bradley ignited a comeback by catching fire in the third quarter, when he drained five of his seven 3-pointers, part of his game-high 27-point performance. He hit back-to-back threes after Willenborg had scored on an inbound play to open the half, and the Folsom lead was down to 53-42 after his fourth 3-pointer. Two Will Perkins free throws cut the lead to nine with 2:43 left in the period.

University forward Luke Bradley (24) receives his All-Tournament Team trophy from Marin Catholic athletic director Adam Callan in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

“Luke has taken his game to another level,” Bessolo said. “Obviously, everyone sees the 3-point shooting, but he’s got versatile length. He’s an important defender for us, he’s an important rebounder for us and, when he’s hitting the three ball, everything goes well.”

Ard, who had been vital off the bench for the Bulldogs in the prior three games before moving into a starting role with Petersen injured, sent Folsom into the fourth up 59-47. The Bulldogs ripped off a 12-1 run after Bradley had scored the opening bucket of the fourth quarter, with Ard’s dunk stretching the lead to 71-50. Joey Kennedy, who was limited to five points, fouled out during that span.

Folsom forward Justin Ard (0) tries to pass over University guard Gus Parsons (23) during a non-league basketball game in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

University did make one last push, with Gus Parsons’ putback capping off an 11-0 run to get within 10, but the Bulldogs closed the game out with an effective press break as Willenborg scored the last eight of his team-high 26 points in the final three minutes.

Young scored 15, Chase Rawlins added 12 off the bench and Mitchell Rawlins finished with nine points and 18 rebounds. Johnston, who was injured in the Bulldogs’ lone loss of the season, had eight points and four assists.

Cole Boake, who was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Bradley, scored 22. Perkins added eight, and Parsons scored just five but accounted for seven assists and six rebounds.

Click here to see The Standard’s recap of Serra’s win over St. Ignatius in the 5th Place Game.