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Buffs do the unthinkable
Manteca takes NorCals, play for state title Thursday
The Manteca High basketball team following its 70-45 win over Bishop ODowd of Oakland in the Division III CIF Northern California Regional Championship Game at American Canyon High School on Saturday. - photo by Photo By Sean Kahler

AMERICAN CANYON – On paper Manteca High School stood no chance Saturday night at American Canyon High School in their Nor-Cal Regional Final matchup against Bay Area powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd. 

The reigning CIF State Open Division Champions dispatched the Valley Oak League and CIF San Joaquin Section champion Weston Ranch Cougars with relative ease to advance to take on the Buffaloes. Manteca lost to the Cougars three times over the course of the season – something that didn’t add up to their favor when traveling to Napa County to represent the first Manteca Unified School ever to advance that far in the state tournament. 

But basketball games aren’t played on paper. 

And despite being the only ones in the gym that believed they had a chance, Manteca did the unthinkable in a 70-45 dismantling of the Dragons to advance to the CIF Division III State Basketball Championship game Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena.  

It wasn’t even so much of a shocker as it was a statement that even against the best basketball programs in Northern California, the Manteca Buffaloes – dominated by their big players and fast tempo – can hang with just about anybody. 

Junior point guard Tydus Verhoeven summed it all up. 

“We wanted to come out and make a statement by winning this game because we heard that we were soft and we were not from the Bay Area,” he said emphatically. “We wanted to prove that in Manteca that we could play basketball too and we could represent our city as well as the valley.”

It wasn’t supposed to go down this way. 

Bishop O’Dowd – who had four underclassmen starting – had been to the Nor-Cal Final 13 times while Manteca was making its first appearance. 

The Oakland powerhouse had the connections – like former NBA Champion player and Denver Nugget Coach Bryan Shaw, who was sitting just to the right of the O’Dowd bench for the entire contest – and the history and the lineage and all of the clout in the room. 

And as soon as the game started, none of that mattered. 

Manteca battled shot-for-shot throughout the first half, and while they were dancing on the biggest stage of the school’s history, didn’t let the limelight distract them from their given mission. 

When big man Anand Hundal couldn’t get any looks at the post, he pulled up from outside – draining a three-point shot early that showed O’Dowd that they couldn’t take their eye off of the big man even when he was lumbering across the court. 

The Buffaloes held a one-point lead at the end of the first half. And while everybody expected the Dragons to come out shooting in the second half, Manteca’s defense shut them down completely – opening up with a 6-0 run and following up with a 7-0 run that all but put the game out of reach by the time the fourth quarter started. 

“Yeah but you guys beat Weston Ranch,” somebody in the stands muttered after the game was over.

It didn’t matter. 

Manteca had just beaten one of the most storied basketball programs in the Bay Area and will now be advancing to a game that no other school in district history has ever been able to reach. 

Will they have enough to beat Bonita High School of La Verne when they square off on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena? 

Conventional wisdom would give the edge to the team from Southern California. 

But conventional wisdom had Manteca High sitting at home a long time ago, so I think that probably works out in the Buffaloes favor. 

Just keep telling them they don’t belong – that Anand Hundal will just tire himself out and not be there the fourth quarter. He scored 25 points seemingly effortlessly. 

Count out Kenny Wooten – who had 15 points and 20 rebounds and a pair of monster dunks that helped take wind out of the Dragons sails at crucial points in the game. 

Tell them they aren’t good enough and they don’t belong. 

Because when the Buffaloes are out to prove something to the world, they do just that. 

And keep pressing them thinking that they’ll be unable to handle the pressure. 

“We have been pressed a lot this year – a lot of people think that is our weakness but since we have been pressed so much I think that are experienced in it,” head coach Brett Lewis said. “When we settle down and let the game come to you a little bit we are pretty comfortable and we are able to break it fairly easily. It’s a good way to get our bigs open so teams can’t pack it in. If we are able to break it up front it’s usually a good thing for us. 

“We knew at halftime that if we tightened up a few things on defense that we could possibly hold them down a little bit more, but it was our guys buying in and wanting to do it.”

Roll on you Buffs. 

All the way to a ring.