With the Golden State Warriors' recent domination of the NBA, basketball in the Bay Area has become synonymous with impeccable ball movement and three-point shooting marksmanship.
Watching the Pinewood girls basketball team pass and shoot the ball on Tuesday night, it seems as if those traits have translated to other levels of basketball in the Bay Area.
The No. 2-seeded Panthers knocked down 14 three-pointers on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc to defeat No. 3-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral, 68-51, in the CCS Open Division semifinals at Milpitas High.
Pinewood (22-4) advances to the CCS Open Division finals for the second consecutive season, where it will face No. 1 seed Mitty (22-3), which defeated No. 4 Valley Christian, 65-37, in the other semifinal game.
The Fightin' Irish defeated the Panthers in last year's CCS Open finals (48-46), but Pinewood exacted its revenge, leading Sacred Heart Cathedral wire-to-wire.
"We were on a game of drive and kicks," junior guard Akayla Hackson said of the Panthers' effective offensive attack. "Always finding the open person, cutting when possible. Pretty much just drawing defenders to give (teammates) open shots.
Hackson led Pinewood's three-point barrage with six triples and career-high 26 points -- 20 of which came in the first half.
Hannah Jump also scored double-digit points for the Panthers, as the freshman knocked down three 3-pointers and poured in 13 of her 15 points after intermission.
The Panthers previously had drained 14 or more 3-pointers three other times this season, but were not as efficient shooting the ball in any of those contests.
"We got our looks and we hit them," Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler said of the remarkable shooting performance. "Early in the year we were very low in terms of our 3-point percentage, but the shots were good. But, as time has gone on, we've been consistently about 40 percent the last 15 games from three."
The Fightin' Irish were led by 6-foot-1 junior Ilmari'l Thomas, who poured in 25 points down low.
Although Sacred Heart Cathedral overpowered Pinewood in the paint at times, it struggled hitting its outside jump shots, making only two 3-pointers on 10 attempts.
"That's a physical team we played, strong player inside,"Scheppler said. "Overall, I thought we did a good job slowing them down."
The Panthers opened the game on an 11-2 run and controlled the entire first quarter, led by 11 points from Hackson. The junior ended the first period of play with an impressive highlight, a Stephen Curry-esque step back 3-pointer of the dribble that received a big cheer from the crowd.
"(Hackson) picked a good time to have her best game as a Pinewood Panther, that's for sure," Scheppler said. "She rises to the occasion. She loves the spotlight, she plays better in bigger games. She's very streaky, so when she gets a nice little run going the basket looks like a big ocean."
Sacred Heart Cathedral slowly crawled back into the game, and cut the deficit to one early in the second quarter, but the Panthers immediately responded with a 10-0 spurt and led by 13 at the end of the half.
The Panthers opened the second half on another 10-0 run, this time led by eight points from Jump, to open up a 23-point advantage midway through the third quarter.
"We always had an answer when they made their runs," Scheppler said. "I though the start of the third quarter was really crucial."
Sacred Heart Cathedral never got closer than 15 points afterwards, allowing Pinewood a chance at a CCS Open championship at Santa Clara University on Friday night. The time is yet undetermined.
To capture the title, the Panthers will need a strong game plan for the Monarchs' sizeable height advantage. The Mitty roster includes eight girls six feet and taller, while the Panthers tallest player tops out at 5-10.
"You just have to match their toughness, match how they play," explained Hackson for how Pinewood attacks taller teams. "Just be physical down there, take advantage of our speed, definitely."
In the Open Division consolation semifinals, the No. 5-seeded Menlo-Atherton girls (25-4) suffered their second straight loss following 22 straight victories, a tough 47-47 setback to No. 8 Los Gatos (19-6) in the Bears' gym.
It was a battle between two league champions, Los Gatos of the SCVAL De Anza Division and M-A of the PAL South Division. The Wildcats held the Bears scoreless for six minutes to take a 32-22 halftime lead.
In the second half, Ilana Baer and Greer Hoyem led an M-A comeback. Hoyem tied the game with 48 seconds remaining to finish with 13 points. The Wildcats' Sarah Nelson, however, converted one of two free throws with 17 seconds to play. With four seconds left, the Bears inbounded and fired off a 3-pointer that went through just after the buzzer.
Baer also tallied 13 points and Carly McLanahan finished with 11 for M-A, which will play in Division I next week when the CIF NorCal playoffs begin.
Also in the Open Division consolation semifinals, No. 6 Menlo School (19-7) dropped its second straight -- a 60-49 setback to No. 7 St. Francis (18-8) in Atherton.
The Knights had a good run in their inaugural Open Division appearance, playing close games against Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Francis. Menlo is headed to the NorCal Division IV playoffs, which begin next Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Against the Lancers, Menlo started well, four players scored in the first, led by Sam Erisman's eight of her game-high 21, and the Knights took a 14-12 lead into the second. Hannah Paye had five of her 14 points in the second quarter and Menlo led 27-24 by halftime.
St. Francis' Jenisis Merriman found her shooting touch and scored 18 second-half points as the Lancers pulled away in the fourth.
In the CCS Division IV semifinals at Menlo School, No. 2 Sacred Heart Prep (19-6) posted a 45-42 victory over No. 3 Monte Vista Christian (22-4). The Gators will play No. 1 Scotts Valley (23-4) for the section title on Saturday at Kaiser-Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. Scotts Valley advanced with a 66-43 win over No. 5 Oceana.
SHP senior Riley Hemm tossed in 16 points to lead the Gators while Tatum Angotti added eight. SHP held a 24-20 halftime lead and held on after intermission.
Menlo-Atherton and Half Moon Bay will meet for a third time this season, this time for the CCS Open Division consolation title after the PAL South Division rivals each won semifinal games Tuesday night.
The No. 4-seeded Bears (26-3) rolled to a 65-50 victory over No. 8 Santa Cruz (21-7) in Atherton while the No. 6-seeded Cougars (26-3) defeated No. 7 Palma (22-4), 61-45.
M-A and Half Moon Bay each has a win over each other this season. They'll face each other Thursday at M-A at 7 p.m. No matter what happens, the Bears will advance to next week's NorCal Division I playoffs.
Against Santa Cruz, Blake Henry and fellow senior Christian Fioretti each had 14 points, with Fioretti adding seven assists. Reed Fratt and Eric Norton each finished with 10 points. Fioretti scored all of his points in the first half to take the Bears to a 38-26 lead.
M-A kept up the pace, despite 29 points from Kaijae Yee-Stephens' 29 points, and moved ahead by 59-42 before closing it out.
In a CCS Division IV semifinal, No. 1 seed Sacred Heart Prep (15-11) saw its season end in a 58-47 loss to No. 5 Carmel (23-4) at Kaiser-Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.
The Gators trailed at halftime, 31-18, and couldn't cut into their deficit on a cold shooting night. Seniors Connor Moses and Mason Randall closed their prep hoop careers with 17 and 12 points, respectively. They were among eight seniors playing their final game.