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Bishop Montgomery girls basketball rides hot start to Division 1 State (CIF) title win over Bishop O'Dowd: 5 takeaways

Knights prove untouchable in the first half, and weather the storm when Bishop O'Dowd gets going in the third quarter

SACRAMENTO — Although Bishop Montgomery girls basketball entered Friday with a gaudy six state titles, its last one had come when its current players were yet to be born. And its current coaches, who are Bishop Montgomery alumni, weren't even Knights yet.

Now it's a new era, and time to add yet another state title to the program's storied history. Bishop Montgomery owned the first half on Friday against Bishop O'Dowd at Golden 1 Center, and rode it to a 52-40 victory for a State Division I Championship.

Bishop Montgomery's 2023-24 CIF State Division 1 champions pose for its seventh state crown in school history and first since 2002. 

Bishop Montgomery's 2023-24 CIF State Division 1 champions pose for its seventh state crown in school history and first since 2002. 


1. Knights' first half leaves nothing to chance

Bishop Montgomery was electrifying and then some throughout the first half. It led 35-14 at halftime, and that's the story of the game.

Wasting no time, Bishop Montgomery came out hot from the start and left little room for doubt. It surged to a 13-3 lead with 4:31 left in the first quarter, 21-5 at the two-minute warning, and 24-8 shortly before ending the first quarter up 24-10. With three minutes left in the second quarter, the lead was up to 35-12 for the largest margin of the game before O'Dowd cut the deficit to 35-14 right before halftime.

The Knights were dominant in transition in the first half, which is tough to achieve against a team with as much quickness and point-of-attack defense as Bishop O'Dowd. Good defense helped set the Knights up. In addition to forcing eight turnovers in the first half and capitalized on them for 11 points, they held O'Dowd to 6-30 shooting and pulled down 16 defensive rebounds – which meant they were off to the races.

"We love to run, pitch ahead," Bishop Montgomery head coach Rheina Ale said.

"We would rather get layups than setting up our offense. That was one of the main things, how we were going to play with pace. That was really big for us."

Star junior Jordin Blackmon looked the part of a focal point of a state championship team, particularly in the first half, despite dealing with foul trouble. At halftime, she'd played less than 10 full minutes, but was 6 of 7 from the field with 13 points. Bishop Montgomery was 14-26 from the field and 3-8 from three-point land.

With Bishop Montgomery holding such a comfortable lead at halftime, it didn't look like its opponent could get back in the game. But if Bishop O'Dowd managed to climb back – which it did – there was plenty of padding.

Jordin Blackmon scored 11 points in the first 3 minutes, 30 seconds. 

Jordin Blackmon scored 11 points in the first 3 minutes, 30 seconds. 

2. Bishop Montgomery survives Dragons' push, Blackmon's foul trouble

The second half, mainly the third quarter, belonged to Bishop O'Dowd. 

The Dragons were a new team from the start of the second half, setting the tone defensively and getting the lid off the basket on the other end. They then got Blackmon to pick up her third and fourth fouls in later in the third quarter, and their momentum escalated.

"We went back to our ball pressure," said Bishop O'Dowd head coach Malik McCord. 

"[Bishop Montgomery] likes to get up and down. They're just as athletic as we are. Scouting them, they kind of struggled with teams that sagged off, and that's what we went with. But we sagged off and they were still scoring. So we went back to who we are, and we're going to get in your face."

It was the Dragons, not the Knights, scoring repeatedly via transition and early offense while wreaking havoc at the point of attack defensively. They trimmed the deficit to 41-28 to close the third quarter, and 42-33 a minute into the fourth quarter.

But that was as close as it got. Bishop Montgomery didn't let the walls cave in, and eventually adjusted to a swarm of defensive pressure from a foe that can pack it on like few others.

Tiara Jones hit a contested 16-footer with 5:32 left to break the Knights' cold streak and put them back up by 11. Sophia Dignadice upped the lead to 46-33 shortly thereafter on a transition layup. Blackmon reentered the game with 3:19 left and helped keep the ship steady. Cyriah Coleman hit the unofficial dagger, a short hook off a pump fake and step-through in the lane with a little over two minutes left, giving Bishop Montgomery a 50-38 lead.

Simply put, the Knights got their work done early in the game and held on when their footing got shaky.

"I always say we're a second half team... but today we just came out with intensity," Ale said.

"We came out on fire. We were pushing the ball, making easy layups. And the start of the game really set the tone for the rest of the game. I'm really proud of all these girls. The intensity was there from start to finish."

Blackmon led the game with 15 points on 6-9 shooting in just 17 minutes and three second of action. Coleman was a steady presence with 14 points on 5-10 shooting (2-5 from three) in 31 minutes of action. Both of them also totaled six rebounds and two assists. Dignadice added six points and three assists for the Knights, and freshman Armanyie Reed had three points with team-highs of nine rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Ermanye Reed, Bishop Montgomery

Ermanye Reed, Bishop Montgomery

3. Bishop Montgomery completes season of remarkable consistency

When the Division I State playoff bracket was announced, it was clear that top-seeded Bishop Montgomery was the frontrunner to come out of SoCal despite a litany of worthy contenders. And the Knights had already blown out the top-ranked team in the NorCal side of the bracket, Bishop O'Dowd, 57-33 in the regular season.

After all, Bishop Montgomery went the entire regular season and section playoffs without getting upset despite playing an unrelenting schedule. The Knights only lost three regular season games, with each loss coming competitively to a team ranked top-50 in the country at some point during the season, and their Open Division pool play losses came against Ontario Christian and Etiwanda. They played so many of the rest of the best teams in the Southern Section and beyond, and didn't fall to any of them.

So, Bishop Montgomery had to do on Friday what it successfully had done all season long – avoid a let-up. Much easier said than done, especially when tasked with beating CIF-SS D1 champion Brentwood School in the regional finals, which it narrowly survived (71-68) after winning that matchup 70-55 in November. And much easier said than done in the state finals when an opponent like Bishop O'Dowd has cut your lead from 23 points to single-digits early in the fourth quarter.

Sometimes the clear team to beat in any given playoff bracket has its one off night on the wrong night. Bishop Montgomery went a whole season without letting an off night result in an upset loss, and that included finishing the season with five straight wins against dangerous opponents.

Hugs all around for Bishop Montgomery coach Rheina Ale and her Knights. 

Hugs all around for Bishop Montgomery coach Rheina Ale and her Knights. 

4. Knights win it all with family, alma mater connection

In just her second season as a head coach, Ale won a Division I State title, which on its own is a fantastic accomplishment. On top of it, the former Knight (and USF star) did it for her alma mater with her sister Kristen Brown as one of her two main assistant coaches and her other sister Dez in the picture in multiple supporting roles for the team.

It's hard to draw up a more gratifying title run than that.

"It means everything with me to have my [sisters] with me," an emotional Ale said after the game.

"My senior year I played with my sister Kristen, who was a freshman, and my sister Desiree was a sophomore. Kristen is my right hand on the bench. Desiree is the first one to back me up if I need it. It just means everything to me to start my coaching journey with my sisters."

5. Bishop O'Dowd is well-prepared for future playoff runs

The two seniors Bishop O'Dowd loses, Savannah Jones and Nyah Greenwood, have been cornerstone players for years and can't be easily replaced. The Dragons won't be the same team without them, no matter how much their talented returners improve.

But with that said, Bishop O'Dowd will return more talent than almost any other team in Northern California next season – all besides Jones and Greenwood are underclassmen. That includes sophomores Devin Cosgriff and Jayla Stokes, junior Madison Gordon, and freshman Myella Chapman. It also includes sophomore Lizzy Quinteros, one of the team's top players, who missed most of the season with a knee injury – a fact that only amplifies what an impressive run it was.

So, Bishop O'Dowd will be widely considered a threat to keep moving up the food chain in 2024-25, and this playoff run – and bitter state finals loss – will serve as invaluable experience.

"This group has been very special for us," McCord said.

"I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this season as a coach with this group. The love they have for each other, and that we have for them... I'm sorry to see this season end. I can't be more proud of [Jones and Greenwood] for leading us on this playoff run. I'm super proud of these girls, the ball just wasn't falling tonight."

"They'll leave a legacy," McCord continued.

"And I've said everyday to enjoy the moment because this team is not going to be the same team next year. Enjoy this progress. We have to take the positives."

"I'm extremely excited," McCord responded when asked about next season. 

"Be on the lookout. Because this is all experience. I've been here before as a coach. Having a young team get here and lose, and the next year, come back [stronger], and that's the plan."

Stokes led the Dragons with 11 points, and had six rebounds. Gordon totaled eight points and six rebounds, and Jones had game-highs of nine rebounds and five assists to go with three points.

Jayla Stokes (2) is one of seven O'Dowd players who are sophomores or freshmen. Stokes had a team-high 11 points. 

Jayla Stokes (2) is one of seven O'Dowd players who are sophomores or freshmen. Stokes had a team-high 11 points.