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NorCal basketball: It’s all on the line for Cardinal Newman

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Northern California prep basketball pedigree is exhibited when Cardinal Newman takes on Archbishop Riordan in today’s Division 4 regional

CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli talks to his players at practice Friday before today’s Northern California Division 4 championship game.

CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat
Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli talks to his players at practice Friday before today’s Northern California Division 4 championship game.

title game.

Together the programs boast nine NorCal finals appearances, reaching six state championship contests. While Riordan has a California high school title, Cardinal Newman still seeks that milestone.

The best Cardinals team, based on season wins, in more than two decades appears poised to put Cardinal Newman back in the state spotlight. Win — making for a program-best 32 on the campaign — and the Cardinals take on the Southern California champion for Golden State bragging rights.

“These kids have not played all year long for records. They want to win the Northern California championship and get to the state finals,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.

Seeking to rekindle Riordan’s place among the state’s best is the first Crusaders squad to post a winning campaign in five seasons.

“We both had to play some good teams to get here. We want to keep this going,” said Riordan coach Rich Buckner.

The contest features clearly contrasting styles.

Cardinal Newman again is the taller, stronger squad. While the Cardinals can get up the court and score quickly, they want to control tempo, working inside first and then out for scoring chances.

With power forward Corey Hammel a finisher around the basket and wing Kenny Love’s midrange game, Cardinal Newman can be tough to contain.

“Our team really needs to be selective in their shots,” Bonfigli said.

A danger zone for Cardinal Newman will be getting into the type of helter-skelter pace Riordan likes to create.

Fast and fit, Riordan aims to make the game an end-to-end contest. Moving the ball and finding gaps in the defense is critical to the Crusaders largely perimeter game.

Any of several players led by guards Jiday Ugbaja and Frankie Ferrari can lead the Crusaders in scoring.

“There’s a lot of balance on our team. These are good team guys,” Buckner said.

Rebounding should be a Cardinal Newman advantage, so Riordan must work hard to limit second chance shots.

Defense could decide this contest as many prep playoff games are won.

Following a close loss to Cardinal Newman in the semifinals, Soquel coach Stu Walters said Cardinal Newman defends with the best, both on the ball and crashing the boards.

“Their size is a concern,” Buckner said. “They defend the heck out of the ball.”

Yet holding ground against bigger teams is one of Riordan’s strength. The Crusaders were competitive despite being outsized by the best in the rugged West Catholic Athletic League.

“They’re in a great league. We’ve watched a lot of film,” Bonfigli said. “That’s a really good team.”

Such mutual respect is reflected in views from prep basketball observers that the teams are nearly even when matched up.

Cardinal Newman is the top seed in the CIF State Boys Division 4 Basketball Championships, Nor Cal regional. Riordan is second. The Cardinals have the edge in one state pool, the Crusaders in another.

Where the teams are even is depth. Both substitute with confidence in little drop off — neither Cardinal Newman nor Riordan expects to wear down their opponent.

Last to score could be the winner.