a year's wait
Palo Alto's Lin is all set
after missing '05 final with injury
Palo Alto senior guard Jeremy Lin knew exactly where he wasn't going to be on Thursday night.
"I'm not going to be at the YMCA and I'm not going to be playing in any pickup games," he said. "I'll be shooting around with my teammates."
It was one year ago that Lin made one of worst decisions of his young life. The night before he and his Palo Alto teammates were to play Mitty in the finals of the Central Coast Section Division basketball II playoffs, Lin suffered a season-ending injury — suffering a fractured fibula in his right leg while playing in a pickup game.
Palo Alto managed to beat the Monarchs in the title game and advance all the way to the NorCal championship game before being eliminated by eventual state champion Oak Ridge.
Lin's absence in that final game was noticeable, and he vowed never again to put himself in that situation.
So, last night he hung with his teammates. No game. No horsing around.
"Definitely not," he said.
Finally, after a year's wait, the game Lin has so much wanted to play in has arrived. Tonight, top-seeded Palo Alto (27-1) will welcome the challenge of No. 2 Mitty (27-3) at Santa Clara University's Leavey Center at 8:30 p.m.
"It means so much," Lin said of the showdown. "It's a game I missed out on last year. That's been my main motivation all year . . . This matchup has been building up for weeks."
The matchup was all set on Tuesday after Palo Alto won its 19th straight game by eliminating No. 4 South San Francisco, 55-46, and Mitty knocked out No. 11 Santa Clara, 71-48.
"It's two very even teams with different strengths and weaknesses," said Palo Alto coach Peter Diepenbrock. "It should be very interesting."
The teams have the same seeds as a year ago, but Diepenbrock believes they come in under different circumstances.
"Last year going in, we were the team with the blowout, blowout, blowout and they had the tough (playoff) games. This year, we had the tough games and they had all the blowouts."
Paly won its first two CCS playoff games in 2005 by an average of 25 points a game. This year the average winning margin in the first two wins is just 10 1/2 points. That, however, is no indication to Paly's readiness.
The Vikings can motivate themselves as quickly as flipping a light switch. The bigger the games, the more motivated they are. That pretty much explains why Paly looked rusty or out of synch in earlier wins over Woodside (64-52) and South San Francisco (55-46). "We would have preferred to have won easily," Diepenbrock said of Tuesday's semifinal win. "We did what we had to do to get the job done."
"I think a lot of the guys have been looking ahead to Mitty," he said. "The intensity hasn't been there."
But tonight it will. Paly, after all, is being regarded as the underdog.
"We're definitely the underdog," Lin said. "If you read the message boards (on various web sites), most people think we're going to lose."
"That's the way people are looking at it," he added.
Palo Alto, however, may have more experience than the Monarchs with its top six players — Brad Lehman, Kheaton Scott, Cooper Miller, Kevin Trimble, Lin and Brown — all seniors.
"They have some talent and they've good good, young kids," Diepenbrock said of Mitty, "but they have a lot of juniors and sophomores. They'll be even better next year and the year after, but this is our chance to get them."
Palo Alto beat a veteran Mitty team last season, 45-42, without Lin, who has the ability to play to whatever level is needed. The Vikings needed him to step up against Woodside and he responded with a career-high 33 points. In the South San Francisco game, Lin spent the evening dishing assists to teammates and scored only five points.
Palo Alto trailed early and fell behind by as many as six points at 25-19 midway through the second quarter. At that point, Lin scored on a put back to trigger an 11-0 run that earned Paly a 30-29 halftime lead.
After the teams battled to a 34-34 deadlock moments into the third quarter, back-to-back baskets by Brown got his team rolling toward a 16-3 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and most of the fourth and gave the Vikings plenty of breathing room at 50-37 with under two minutes to play.
When South San Francisco finally scored on a basket and free throw by junior Bobby Patch to break a nearly seven-minute scoreless streak, there was only 1:02 left to play.
The three-point play by Patch provided his only points of the second half, which turned out to be telling after he kept his team in the game with 16 first-half points --- 12 coming on three-pointers..
Palo Alto needed to stop Patch in the second half and did. The 6-foot-6 Brown provided a big hand in bottling up the 5-9 Patch, with the 6-5 Trimble also helping out in erasing the offensive threat.
"Defense is our trademark," said Trimble, who helped limit SSF to just eight of 22 three-point attempts. "It's the pride of the program."
Palo Alto also did a fine job of shutting down SSF scoring leader Eric Moore, limiting the 6-4 center to just nine points.
With Moore and Patch effectively shut down in the second half, Palo Alto was able to move into the lead and control the clock.
"Once we got a 10-point lead, we were able to slow it down," said Scott, who led the Vikings with 13 points and nine rebounds. "We made a lot of careless mistakes, but we've been around as a team and we came together."
Miller and Brown added 11 points, while Trimble and Lehman combined for 15.
Scott, like everyone else, is looking forward to the Mitty game.
"My dad didn't make it to the game," he said after Tuesday's outing. "He's having (shoulder) surgery. I wanted to make sure he had another game to see."
With both teams tonight already assured of playing in the NorCal playoffs that begin next week, Scott's father will have that opportunity. A victory by Paly tonight will make future viewing even better, giving the Vikings home games until the NorCal finals.
Boys Division IV
Second-seeded Menlo (24-5) missed its shot at reaching the CCS finals and advancing to the NorCal tournament after falling to Valley Christian (San Jose), 61-43, in the semifinals at Alvarez High in Salinas.
The Knights were plagued by turnovers, an inability to control the boards and inconsistent shooting. Still, Menlo trailed by only 25-21 late in the first half until Valley Christian went on an 11-0 run.
Menlo got to within 10 points in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth, but never really threatened. Senior Blake Schultz ended his career with 12 points while junior Beau Heidrich finished with nine.
Things finally are about to change for Sacred Heart Prep, long the bridesmaid of the CCS playoffs. Since winning their first section title in 1995, the Gators have lost five times — including back-to-back championship games in 2004 and '05.
Sacred Heart Prep erased those bad memories, along with its long-time nemesis, with a dominating 50-21 victory over Eastside Prep on Wednesday in the semifinals at De Anza College.
The top-seeded Gators (22-4) will face No. 2 Valley Christian-Dublin (18-10) on Saturday at noon in the section finals at Santa Clara University's Leavey Center. The game amounts to a replay of the Private Schools Athletic League regular season, when SHP posted two impressive victories, 78-49 and 68-48.
After Wednesday's big win over fifth-seeded Eastside Prep (17-15), there's nothing to suggest the Gators won't roll to their first CCS crown in 11 years on Saturday.
Eastside Prep defeated SHP in the two previous CCS finales while winning four straight, six overall and making seven straight appearances in the finals.
But, times have changed for the Panthers, too. Gone is the talent that produced a 114-13 record and those four straight section crowns. This year's team is one of the shortest and youngest in coach Chris Bischof's tenure and it showed against Sacred Heart.
The Gators grabbed leads of 8-0, 14-2 and 44-10 and outscored the Panthers by 21-2 in the third quarter. If redemption is sweet, SHP had free run of the candy store Wednesday.
"Eastside has been the top team in Division V ever since I came to the varsity as a freshman," said SHP senior Pat Coffey, who helped the Gators win three straight PSAL titles with 16-0 records and compile 78 straight league victories. Still, the titles and streaks couldn't take away the sting of losing two straight CCS titles to Eastside Prep. "So, we were really looking forward to this game."
It showed. Six-foot-4 senior Eric Cowell led the way with 16 points and 6-1 junior Michael McMahon added 10. Coffey tallied just five, but has been the scoring spark throughout the season.
SHP coach Angelo Biagi knew his team would have to go through Eastside and talked with his team about just that this week.
"Eastside is no team to take lightly," he said, "because they have been so good for so long."
Sacred Heart would like to inherit that role now, and the Gators certainly are off to a good start. An expected victory on Saturday will earn SHP the home court for the opening round of the NorCal playoffs that begin Tuesday.