Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Burlingame’s Nick Loew goes up in traffic during the Panthers’ 559-46 win over Mills to
capture the PAL Tournament title Saturday night.
The Burlingame boys’ basketball team had won more Peninsula Athletic League Tournament titles since its advent in 2000 — four — than any other school in tournament history.
At one point, the Panthers won four straight — from 2008 to 2011.
Burlingame had come up dry the previous two seasons, however, losing to El Camino in the 2012 championship game and losing in the semifinals last season.
Saturday, the Panthers returned to the title game against nemesis Mills and with a 59-46 victory, secured its fifth tournament title.
“It’s huge,” said Burlingame center Nick Loew, a four-year varsity player who won a PAL tournament title his freshman season in 2011. “We’ve been gone a couple of years.
“I’m really proud of my team.”
The win caps an undefeated run through PAL play for the Panthers — 12-0 during the regular season and 3-0 in the PAL tournament.
Standing in the way of Burlingame’s fifth tournament crown, however, was Mills — one of the few PAL teams to push the Panthers this season, despite losing both matchups during the regular season.
The Vikings pushed Burlingame once again, employing a frustrating 2-3 zone defense that bottled up Loew and the rest of the Panthers frontcourt.
“We knew Mills would be a tough team,” Loew said. “They play a tough 2-3 zone. (To beat it), you have to crash the boards, make good passes and knock down open shots when you get them.”
There are two ways to beat a zone: one, penetrate the defense off the dribble and either finish or dish, or two, shoot over the top of it.
Burlingame chose the latter and with a shooter like Frankie Ferrari, it was a good plan. Ferrari scored a game-high 28 points, hitting five 3-pointers in the process. He had nine points in the first half before exploding for 19 over the final two quarters.
And whenever the Panthers needed a big basket, Ferrari delivered.
“He does everything right,” Loew said of Ferrari. “He always seems to come up clutch. He has such a high basketball IQ.”
In addition to Ferrari, Justin Gutang was the other Panther to score in double digits with 10, with eight of those coming in the second half. Loew finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
But it was the contributions of a pair of Panthers off the bench that helped propel them to victory. Guard Kevin Abuyaghi started the game, but was subbed out about a minute into the game, having taken a couple of shots, but scoring no points.
He started the third quarter and quickly knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, pushing the Panthers’ 24-23 halftime lead to 30-23 less than a minute into the second half.
Sophomore forward Bassel Mufarreh also came up with some clutch baskets. Playing only a handful of minutes in the first half, Mufarreh’s putback with 2:56 before halftime broke an 18-18 tie. His second bucket with less than a minute to play in the second quarter put Burlingame ahead for good, 22-21.
Mills, meanwhile, struggled with its shooting all night. The Vikings managed just 15 field goals for the game and leading scorer Robert Noland, who finished with 11 points, made only two shots from the floor, with the rest of his points coming from the free throw line. Marquis Adkin added eight points for the Vikings.
“Burlingame did a great job,” said Mills coach Rick Hanson. “They’re a great team.”
Both teams got off to a slow start as three minutes into the game, Mills led 2-0 on a pair of free throws. Burlingame finally got on the board and took a 3-2 lead on a Gutang 3, but a Tyler Wright basket put Mills back ahead.
Loew’s first bucket of the night gave Burlingame a 5-4 lead and sparked a 7-0 run to end the quarter, with Ferrari heating up. First, he picked Daniel Yu’s pocket and went in for a layup. He followed that with a rare four-point play. He nailed a 3-pointer and was fouled, converting the free throw for an 11-5 lead after one quarter of play.
Mills countered with its best quarter of the night, outscoring the Panthers 18-13 in the second quarter. Noland scored six points during a 9-3 Mills run to start the period and tying the game at 14. The teams traded baskets the rest of the half, but it was the Burlingame big men — Loew and Mufarreh — who gave the Panthers the lead at halftime, 24-23, as they combined to score 10 of their team’s 13 second-quarter points.
Burlingame opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run, with Abuyaghi draining his pair of 3s, turning a one-point halftime advantage into a nine-point lead less than two minutes into the second half. Mills responded with a 7-0 run of its own, closing to 32-30 on Wright’s three-point play.
That’s as close as the Vikings would get the rest of the way. Ferrari scored the final eight points of the quarter for Burlingame, knocking down his third and fourth 3s of the night, as the Panthers took a five-point lead, 40-35, into the final eight minutes.
From there, the Panthers pulled away. A Corey Matsuno bucket cut Mills’ deficit to 40-37 to start the fourth quarter, but Burlingame came back with a 9-0 run, with Ferrari scoring seven of those points, including his final 3 of the night with less than four minutes to play that gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the night, 49-37.
They simply added on from there on their way to their fifth PAL tournament title in the program’s history.
“I don’t want to say we had to play perfectly, but you certainly have to play better than we did (to beat Burlingame),” Hanson said.