Foothill men on their way to basketball playoffs

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Los Altos Hills is home to the No. 3 basketball team in the state – and it’s not the Foothill College women.

The Foothill men are enjoying the kind of success the women’s squad is accustomed to, earning their highest ranking under 11th-year coach Shanan Rosenberg.

The Owls are 19-5 overall. They have ranked third in the state and second in Northern California for the past four weeks.

But Rosenberg knows that doesn’t guarantee the Owls will go deep into the playoffs like their female counterparts often do.

“We’re playing well,” the St. Francis High grad said, “but there’s still a lot to be determined.”

This is the last week of the regular season, and Rosenberg said Foothill must win both of its games to have any chance at a top-four seed in the regional playoffs. The Owls are scheduled to visit Cañada 7 p.m. today and host Skyline at the same time Friday.

Last week’s 60-51 loss at Ohlone makes these games even more crucial for Foothill, which doesn’t want to slip from second place in the Coast Conference North Division. The Owls (6-3) sit behind only City College of San Francisco (9-0) in the standings. The Rams haven’t lost all season and rank No. 1 in the state.

“They’re pretty much untouchable,” Rosenberg said. “We haven’t beaten them, but we played them better the second time.”

Although both defeats were by double digits, Foothill held the Rams to 67 points Feb. 1.

“That was probably their lowest point total of the year,” the coach said.

Defense sets this team apart from others Rosenberg has coached. The Owls are allowing just 51 points per game.

“This is probably the best defensive team I’ve had,” he said. “They rotate well and play bigger than they are.”

Rosenberg has had better offensive teams, however, like the 2009-10 squad. The 23-8 Owls reached the state tournament quarterfinals for the first time.

“Both are elite teams,” he said. “That team had more weapons and all the starters were sophomores; (on this team) we play four true freshmen, and two start.”

Both starting freshmen played for high schools in the ultracompetitive West Catholic Athletic League. Stephen Grosey – a 6-foot-6 forward from Serra High – “has been tremendous,” Rosenberg said, and 5-10 point guard Jack Biebel out of Mitty High “has been terrific as well.”

The coach believes Grosey – averaging nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds per game in conference – has a chance at all-state honors.

Grosey’s season average of 13 points per game is second on the team to sophomore guard Daryl Wong. The Mills High grad averages 14 points per contest. Forward Brendan Carroll (St. Lawrence Academy) and guard Suhail Mohammadi (Carlmont High) – both sophomores – are the Owls’ next-best scorers at nearly 10 points per game.

Another sophomore, guard Ryan Cali from Harker Academy, is usually the first guy off the bench. He is one of the team’s top 3-point shooters.

“I attribute most of (our success) to a core group of sophomores – their leadership, maturity and skill on the court are the driving force,” Rosenberg said, “but a number of true freshmen have also contributed.”

While Biebel and Grosey log the most minutes among the freshmen, seventh-man Gavin Reilly has played a significant role as well. Rosenberg has been pleasantly surprised by Reilly, who didn’t play varsity basketball at Bellarmine Prep but grew 3 inches as a senior. The 6-3 guard is shooting 40 percent on 3s.

“He’s been terrific for us,” Rosenberg said. “He could start on a lot of teams.”

The Owls may not have a 20-point-per-game scorer, but they have several players capable of such an effort.

“Different guys have stepped up at different times,” Rosenberg said. “What makes us a little dangerous is that you can’t tell who’s going to be our top scorer on any given night.”

Foothill averages 55 points per game – not a lot for college basketball – but as long as they hold opponents to fewer than that, the coach likes the Owls’ chances of making a playoff run.

“We’re not blowing anyone away offensively,” he said. “We’re winning with defense.”

No playoffs for women

The Foothill women won’t join the men in the playoffs, despite a 22-5 record.

The team received a one-year postseason ban for an enrollment violation that coach Jody Craig has deemed too harsh (see story in the Jan. 16 Town Crier).

“It makes my stomach turn,” Craig said last week, “but we’ve got to face it for what it is.”

She added that the Owls – who last year reached the state championship game – would have earned the second or third seed in the NorCal playoffs. Foothill is 9-0 in the Coast Conference North Division and this week can clinch its 15th title in 18 years. The Owls are scheduled to visit San Mateo 5:30 p.m. today and host Skyline 5 p.m. Friday to conclude their season.

Foothill, ranked eighth in the state and third in NorCal, has won 10 consecutive games.

“We’ve had a phenomenal year,” Craig said. “The kids have become an amazing basketball team. They’re enjoying themselves and are playing for each other.”

The Owls last week routed Gavilan 77-18. Foothill led the Feb. 13 game 42-8 at halftime.

“We played a really nice half,” Craig said. “We committed only one foul.”

Three Owls scored in double digits: sophomore guard Chelsea Salom (14), freshman forward Rose Tahaafe (12) and sophomore guard Kameran Dage (11).

For the season, sophomore guard Ajhanai Newton tops the team in scoring, averaging 20 points per game.

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