It was a night that’ll be remembered in Oakland forever.
The mayor delivered a pregame pump-up speech, fans tried to force their way into every possible door to see two Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools battle for a Northern California basketball championship, nearly half of the gym’s lights failed and Money Williams proved that he was the best player on the court.
“I had to show what I can do,” the Montana commit said.
Williams led all players with 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Oakland Wildcats finally got the best of the Oakland Tech Bulldogs, winning the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division III Northern California Championship 77-61 after losing three prior meetings this season by a combined eight points.
“They had been the aggressor the last three games,” Williams said. “We’re better than them. We’re taller; we’re stronger; we had been in the weight room at 6 a.m. every morning.”
Oakland (26-8) will face Buena-Ventura (31-5) on Friday at 4 p.m. for the CIF Division III Championship at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
The 17,608-seat arena will have plenty of room for the Wildcats and their fans, which certainly wasn’t the case at Laney on Tuesday night. Every one of the gym’s 2,000 seats was filled well before tip-off, with dozens more fans standing at the top of the seats and crammed along the baselines. Hundreds more tried to peek in through doors and windows, and some tried to shove their way in at halftime.
As enormous as the crowd was, there were hardly any issues. The only thing close to an incident all night was a bizarre scene in the fourth quarter when a fan threw an Oreo onto the court.
“There was no violence,” said Oakland head coach Orlando Watkins, whose voice was hoarse after screaming to be heard over the crowd. “Everybody’s out here having fun.”
While the Wildcats and Bulldogs were opponents on Tuesday night, Oakland Tech will be supporting Watkins’ team come Friday afternoon.
“I’m really hoping they win the state championship,” Oakland Tech head coach Karega Hart said after his team’s season came to an end. “When we’re not playing them, I’m all for Oakland and all Oakland teams. Regardless of if it’s my kids or their kids, if it’s Oakland kids, I’m all about our Oakland people.”
Hart plans to be in attendance on Friday for both the Wildcats and for Oakland Tech’s girls, who will play immediately after the Oakland boys for the CIF Division I title. The Lady Bulldogs won 82-71 at St. Mary’s-Stockton on Tuesday night.
As close as the prior three meetings between the Bulldogs and Wildcats had been, Oakland never trailed on Tuesday night, and the score was never tied outside of the first four minutes.
“Our game plan was to match them on the glass,” Watkins said. “That’s how they beat us the last three times.”
Oakland outrebounded the Bulldogs 45-32, including 18-10 on the offensive glass. Anthony Lacy, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, had seven boards, and no member of Oakland Tech’s roster collected more than five.
“We had to show everybody that Oakland High’s not soft,” Lacy said. “We had to box out Omar (Staples).”
Staples, a Stanford football commit, dominated the Wildcats on the glass in three prior meetings, but was held in check on Tuesday night thanks to Lacy, Zaymani Mitchell and Desmond West, who stepped up in place of the injured James Fitzgerald.
“There’s no such thing as a 50-50 ball when you’re trying to go to state,” Watkins said. “It’s just ‘my ball.’”
West’s and-1 sent Oakland into halftime with a 36-30 lead, and his thunderous dunk with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach. That dunk drew the loudest response from the crowd throughout the night, though Mitchell’s block late in the second quarter and Te’Shawn Gamble’s early dunk weren’t far behind.
Gamble, a 5-foot-11 guard, finished with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
“He’s the engine of the guards,” Watkins said. “When we went up to Ponderosa (in the first round), I called a timeout, and I laid into him. I said, ‘This is your senior year. This is how you’re gonna go out?’ And he’s been playing at another level ever since.”
Ahmaree Muhammad led Oakland Tech (22-12) with 23 points, making 13 of his 14 free throws in his final high school game. He made two of three from the line after being fouled on a 3-pointer on the final play of the first quarter, cutting the deficit to 17-12, then scored 13 of his team’s 18 in the second.
“Shout out to Ahmaree. That boy a dog,” Williams said. “When we stopped him, we had momentum.”
Sophomore Ardarius Gates scored 13 for the Bulldogs and Devin Haynes added nine. Nine different players scored for Oakland Tech, but only the aforementioned three exceeded three points.
Asher Kramer’s bank 3-pointer on the opening possession of the third quarter had Oakland Tech down just three, but Lacy’s putback sent the Wildcats into the fourth with a 52-41 lead. A pair of Lacy transition layups extended the lead to 13, and a Williams 3-pointer made it 61-46.
West’s poster dunk, which bounced high off the rim before falling through the hoop as he was fouled, was followed by a free throw to stretch the lead to 71-57. Oakland’s JV callups played the final minute of the game as the Wildcat fans celebrated.
“Perseverance,” Watkins said after finally upending the Bulldogs. “We keep pushing and keep working.”
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]