The Berkeley Lady ’Jackets have proved they don’t always have to play well to win. They won a record sixth CIF Northern Region Division I championship on Saturday, beating Oakland 55-40 at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento despite suffering through one of their worst shooting efforts of the season.
But according to their coach, the ’Jackets had better shape up before this weekend’s matchup with Southern Section champion Narbonne (Harbor City), a rematch of last year’s state championship game.
“Tonight, I would have rated us as a C-minus, and against Narbonne, you have to play and A or an A-plus,” Berkeley head coach Gene Nakamura said.
The Lady ’Jackets looked out of sorts on offense the entire game, shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Luckily for Berkeley, the Wildcats weren’t much better at 28 percent.
Berkeley’s starting frontcourt, forwards Robin Roberson and Gelater Fullwood and center Sabrina Keys, were just 9-of-42 on the night. Each of the three missed several shots from close range in the first quarter, and the score was 2-1 Berkeley after three minutes of action.
“I don’t know how many layups we missed tonight, but there must have been at least 10 in the first few minutes,” Nakamura said. “I think this venue, even though we’ve played here several times, it can be intimidating. The backboards are a lot different from the ones at our school. There’s an adjustment we have to make.”
Berkeley’s saving grace came from an unexpected source. Reserve Natasha Bailey, who has struggled to produce points this season, came on late in the period and kick-started the offense. She drove the lane for a layup to make the score 8-7 in Berkeley’s favor. She then drew an offensive foul on Oakland forward Ebony Clark, then made two free throws at the other end. A Fullwood bank shot at the buzzer gave the ’Jackets a 12-7 lead at the first break.
“Natasha stepped up, made key shots and played great defense,” Nakamura said. “Robin Roberson was having an off night, and Natasha stepped up into the gap. We were kind of riding her shoulders for a little while.”
Bailey continued her hot streak in the second quarter, using a spin move inside for another layup, then hitting a jumper. Roberson finally got on the board with two free throws, then made her first bucket of the game to make the score 22-13. Oakland’s Nicol Berry answered with a jumper of her own, but the ’Jackets scored the next four points to cap a 10-2 run, and Berkeley held a 30-20 lead at halftime.
The second half was more of the same, as both teams struggled to find their offenses. Clark got two Oakland baskets to start the second half, but the Wildcats could never get closer than six.
“I didn’t think we played our style of game,” Oakland coach Jeff Duncan-Andrade said. “We need to be emotional to play our kind of defense. We tried every press we have in our system, but we just couldn’t find that spark.”
Clark scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. She was the only Wildcat to score in double figures, although forward Angela Gibson helped her on the glass, pulling down 17 boards. Roberson led Berkeley with 14 points to go with 11 rebounds, followed by 12 points each from Bailey and Fullwood. But overall, the ’Jackets were clearly not quite right on offense.
“Oakland’s game is based on hustle and defensive pressure, and that’s part of the reason we had such a tough game,” Nakamura said. “There is a bit of a Berkeley-Oakland rivalry, and every time we get together it’s a mess out there.”
The Lady ’Jackets will face Narbonne, which beat Lynwood, 67-41, in the Southern Section championship, at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento.