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March 11, 2009 > Newark beats national powerhouse in NCS semis; loses in final

Newark beats national powerhouse in NCS semis; loses in final

By Idorenyin Uto-Uko
Photos By Bill Mancebo

At a glimpse, it seemed like Newark Memorial's (26-5) courageous Cougars had a chance at winning a North Coast Section (NCS) boys basketball championship. They beat De La Salle (26-1), 39-33, on Wednesday, March 4, in the semifinals and had all the momentum of a Cinderella March madness basketball story. De la Salle was ranked No. 10 in the nation by ESPN Rise Top 50, and No. 9 in the USA Today poll.

Newark, not even a glimmer on the national radar for boys basketball, has had success locally with quality wins over Sacramento and Berkeley (twice). They are not even ranked in the Western Region, according to the ESPN Rise poll. But that didn't matter, as the Cougars found a way to win behind the 6-foot-4 junior Khion Sankey, who had 16 points and eight rebounds against De La Salle.

"To beat a great team like them in their gym is indescribable," Sankey said.

In the contest, the Cougars forced De La Salle into 19 percent shooting (7-37 from the field) in their victory.

Since 2004, Newark has played De La Salle four times and beat them once. That victory came in the Martin Luther King Jr. Classic, 49-30, on January 18, 2005. The victory was sweet revenge for the Cougars - who had lost to De La Salle in the previous year's NCS Division I championship game - as they snapped the Spartans 22-game win streak.

Unfortunately, for Newark Memorial, their Cinderella story of winning the NCS championship was not be as they lost in NCS final on Saturday, March 7, to Monte Vista of Danville, 52-43, at St. Mary's College in Moraga.

The first half was all Monte Vista. The Mustangs jumped out to an early 19-8 lead. Newark was able to narrow the lead at halftime, 27-14.

The Cougars came out in the second half with a zone defense and it helped them to slowly creep back into the game in the third quarter, getting the score to 33-26. They continued to try and stifle Monte Vista and their leading scorer, Brian Barber, but he was too much for the Newark defense to handle. Barber shot the lights out of the gym and the life out of the Cougars, as he would finish with 25 points.

Newark cut the lead to 43-38 with less than 90 seconds to play but Barber answered with a critical three-point play that put the game out of reach.

Top scorers for Newark were Sankey (16) and Ifeanyi Ezeofor (12).

The Cougars will continue to participate in "March Madness" despite the loss. Making the section championship secures the team a spot in the statewide regional basketball playoffs. This is the second consecutive year Newark has made it. In 2008, the Cougars fell to eventual state champion, Mc Clymonds, in the Northern California semifinals, after beating Folsom in the first round.

Newark Memorial took on Bellarmine in the quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic Federation basketball tournament on Tuesday, March 10 (result not available at press). If the Cougars are victorious, they move on to play next on March 12 at 7 p.m.

To get scores, schedules and articles up to date, as well as in-game photography and videos, log onto TCV Sports Web site, www.tricityvoice.com/sports.

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