SAN DIEGO -- After a disappointing third-place finish last week at its own tournament, Windward (Los Angeles) knew it was a better team than the 5-4 record it brought to the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic National Division.
Before the tourney began, the Wildcats weren't yet clicking on all cylinders as junior guard Charles Dawson was returning from football and a couple of key contributors were nursing injuries.
But on Wednesday it all came together for Windward, who rode a big performance from Jordan Wilson to upset POWERADE FAB 50 No. 16 Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) in overtime 73-71.
Windward head coach Miguel Villegas called the victory the biggest in school history for a non-championship game. The National Division quarterfinal game was a matchup of defending CIF state champions.
Windward (7-4), last year's Division IV champ, led 50-41 entering the fourth quarter before Mitty (6-1) cut the deficit by using standout 6-foot-8 junior forward Aaron Gordon at point guard to initiate offense. The defending Division II champs had trouble finding Gordon underneath during the first three quarters, but he scored eight consecutive points to cut Windward's lead to a single point (55-54) with 3:18 remaining in the game.
Mitty eventually took the lead with just under three minutes remaining and the teams went back and forth until Thomas Peters gave Mitty a 64-61 lead by canning two free throws with 8.8 seconds remaining.
That's when Wilson, a junior guard, took over.
He banked in a straightaway 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to send the game into overtime. In overtime, Wilson sealed the game with his penetration and his teammates did their job from the free throw line.
With under a minute remaining in the extra period, Wilson sliced two defenders, including Gordon, and converted a jack knife lay-up to give his team a 71-68 lead. Gordon then made one of two free throws, but Wilson sealed the game with an uncontested lay-up with less than 10 seconds remaining.
"When we lost the lead I was thinking, 'not again,"' said Wilson, who finished with 20 points. "I decided to take the game into my hands. I trust my teammates and I didn't want to lose this game."
Windward forward Nick Stover, a LMU recruit, led all scorers with 23 points, including nine-of-11 free throws.
Gordon finished with 20 points, but made only two on nine free throws. As a team, Mitty made six of 14. Windward canned 17 of 26 from the charity stripe.
"Our game plan was to contain their shooters, not so much Gordon," Villegas said. "We just wanted to keep a body on Gordon and limit him on the boards. If you look at it, they got back into the game with their shooting."
Windward will take on Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.) in a Thursday night semifinal contest. The Toreadors advanced with a 56-39 quarterfinal victory over host Torrey Pines as forwards Anthony "Dinnertime" January and Brandon Perry combined for 39 points.
The other semifinal will pit FAB 50 No. 10 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) against upset-minded Newark Memorial (Newark, Calif.).
The Cougars from Northern California are decided underdogs against the famed program from Maryland. Two years ago, Newark Memorial pulled off a string of upsets to make the National Division final against a St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) team led by Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky).
Winning time at Windward
Villegas got an early Christmas gift when former Wildcats guard Darius Morris made the opening day roster of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a proud moment for the school, but the basketball program had "arrived" earlier this year when the Wildcats upset FAB 50-ranked Salesian (Richmond, Calif.) to capture the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Div. IV state title. It was Windward's second title in three seasons, as they won the 2009 Div. V title with the 6-foot-4 Morris leading the way.
"The first one was expected, that's the big difference," said Villegas, now in his ninth season. "The second one opened everyone's eyes to what we're doing. We've been sending a lot of kids to the next level, too."
So how has winning changed the former Dominican College point guard out of South Gate (South Gate, Calif.) since he began to build his program eight years ago?
"Well, you get a lot more, 'Hey coach, how's it going?' lines and more people know who we are," said Villegas, whose team will battle Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.) in a National Division semifinal with another highly-ranked FAB 50 team likely awaiting the winner in Friday's title game. "The expectations are what has changed. The thing with the community is, they now expect us to be in championship games.
"I'm still the same coach, I haven't changed, but it does feel good that people have recognized what you have done."