In a rematch of last year’s hard-fought Northern California Regional championship game, the Berkeley Yellowjackets used their inside power to beat Oakland, 64-50.
Berkeley (2-0) was led by senior power forward Sabrina Keys, who scored 19 points in the second half on 9-for-9 shooting from the field to take her team from a six-point lead at halftime to a dominating victory.
“I just needed to get warm,” said Keys of her hot half. “We don’t have a heater in our gym anymore, so I need time to get warm.”
Keys, who scored 27 points to go with 10 rebounds in the game, has a new partner in crime down low this season, 6-foot-3 freshman center Devanei Hampton. Hampton’s presence allows Keys to finally play her normal forward spot instead of manning the center, and the Purdue signee is clearly enjoying the freedom to move outside on occasion.
“I love to have the help down low, because I’ll be playing (power forward) in college,” Keys said. “We just have to go high-low to get points in our offense.”
The pair did just that against the undersized Wildcats, as Keys found Hampton in the low post three times for easy buckets, and showed her own range with several short jumpers. Hampton finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals in just her second high school game.
Berkeley co-head coach Gene Nakamura knows he needs a big year from Keys to help replace the scoring of the departed Robin Roberson, who dominated the team last year with her outstanding shooting. Roberson averaged 21.5 points per game last season, and Keys is the most likely candidate to fill the leading scorer’s role.
“Sabrina’s done a great job as a role player the last few years, but now it’s time for her to step up,” Nakamura said. “She’s doing what I expect her to do. There’s a reason Purdue and those other schools wanted her.”
The ’Jackets started slowly against Oakland, committing eight turnovers in the first quarter and falling behind 9-2. But Keys got two buckets inside, then Hampton got her own rebound and made an old-fashioned three-point play. Berkeley senior Natasha Bailey made a free throw with 4.6 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game at 11-11.
Berkeley’s trademark defense rallied the team to a lead at the start of the second quarter as the Wildcats were held scoreless for more than four minutes. The ’Jackets built up a 20-11 lead before Oakland star Ebony Young hit a 3-pointer to break the drought.
It looked as if Berkeley would take a big lead into halftime, but some sloppy ball-handling nearly gave it all away. Oakland’s Kathy Hill hit a three with less than 30 seconds left, and Berkeley turned the ball over right into the hands of Young, who hit another three to cut the Berkeley lead to 29-23. It could have been even worse, as Young caused yet another turnover, but she missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
But Keys wasn’t about to let the score get any closer. She made all seven of her shots in the third quarter as the ’Jackets raced out to a 52-38 lead, then kept a close eye on Young when the Wildcats pulled to within 10 with three minutes left in the game.
In fact, Young scored just 13 points in the game, a low total for the Santa Barbara signee. She had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the NorCal final last season, but managed just two rebounds against the new and improved Berkeley frontcourt.
“We were just ready for Ebony tonight,” Keys said. “I expected them to hit more threes, but we played really good defense.”
Nakamura was happy with his team’s performance, considering the fact he just got his full squad back this week. Several Berkeley players have been nursing injuries for much of the pre-season, a tough break for a team with four freshmen trying to learn a new system.
“We played much smarter than in the first game (a win over El Molino), which is good to see,” Nakamura said. “We do need to feed the post more, because that’s where our strength is.”