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Oakmont basketball arrives in prime time

Vikings battle playoff-tested Fairfield at Arco Arena
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Despite its No. 4 seed coming into the postseason, there was not much playoff buzz around the Oakmont High boys basketball team, except on the school’s Roseville campus.

Since Gary Donnell led the Vikings to a section title game in 2000, there have been some tough times at the school on the east side of town. On Friday night, with Donnell in the stands and his former assistant Rick Campbell on the bench, Oakmont knocked off highly regarded No. 5 Jesuit to earn a trip to Arco Arena.

The Vikings were the higher seeded team, but the Marauders were the team with history and expectations. Playing with confidence, and working through major foul trouble with one of its top players, Oakmont rose to the occasion, drawing on a season’s worth of experience in winning by a reasonably comfortable 12-point margin.

“The way we see it, our league prepared us for the Jesuit game,” said Oakmont coach Rick Campbell. “We felt we could play with them and the win gives us confidence moving forward.”

What lies ahead is a significantly bigger task, a Fairfield team that has been in this spot many times in recent season, and that likes to run the floor. Campbell does not know a lot about his upcoming opponent, but he knows enough.

“They play hard, they are well coached, and they like to get up and down the floor,” Campbell said.

Rocklin coach Steve Taylor, who will be coaching his team in the other section semifinal against Woodcreek, is familiar with Sierra Foothill League rival, Oakmont and also with the Fairfield program. The Thunder beat Fairfield in postseason play the last two seasons, and also lost a NorCal playoff game to the Falcons on a buzzer-beater two years ago.

“Oakmont is really good and I think they can match up with anyone,” Taylor said. “They have tremendous balance on offense with and excellent inside and outside game. Fairfield normally plays pretty fast so Oakmont will have to control the tempo and I think Oakmont can attack them inside and will have a size advantage. It should be a great game.”

That inside game is keyed by 6-foot-8 center Tony Gill and 6-6 forward J.T. Adenrele, who jumps out of the gym. Combine the size and athletic ability of two inside players with the athleticism of 6-3 point guard Fred Mobley and the shooting of 6-2 guard Alex Ford and you have one of the area’s most dynamic starting units.

Lately, the Vikings have been without one of their best ball handlers in Matt Daly, but they have received great contributions from a pair of outstanding role-players – Nathaniel Grady and Eric Marten.

That duo played a huge role against Jesuit, when Adenrele played very little due to a perpetual battle with foul trouble. On a team that have great starting talent, but has is not typically very deep, those performances have been a welcome sight.

“This late in the season, foul trouble is a worry for everybody,” Campbell said. “The Jesuit game did give us additional confidence in our bench.”

This is a game the Vikings can get, but they will need to limit mistakes. The Achilles heel of this team has been a propensity to turn the ball over. When Oakmont (21-6) avoids that, it tends to be very successful and against the experience of the top-seeded Falcons (24-5), that will be a necessity.

“We can't worry about what experience Fairfield has, we can just go out and play the best that we can,” Campbell said. “We will do what has gotten us this far. Defend well, rebound and share the ball offensively to get good quality shots, in addition to limiting turnovers and forcing them to defend us.”

The contest is the nightcap of a four-game day at Arco, and is schedule to top Thursday night at 9 p.m.

FYI:

Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball D-II semifinals

Thursday at Arco Arena
Admission: $17 for adults, $8 for students
Parking: $12 for cars, $30 for buses
7:30 – Rocklin vs. Woodcreek
9:00 – Fairfield vs. Oakmont

Winners play in section final Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Arco Arena.