With its quick backcourt and Leon Powe's long arms in the middle, Oakland Tech's boys basketball team on Monday became the midseason favorite to represent Northern California in the CIF Division I state finals in March.

The Bulldogs turned their Martin Luther King Holiday Classic matchup against fellow NorCal power De La Salle of Concord at St. Mary's College into a showcase before more than 3,000 as they blitzed the Spartans, 62-47.

Tech, ranked No. 2 in Northern California behind Clovis West of Fresno if you consider actual geography but No. 1 if you only consider CIF playoff boundaries, scored the first nine points of the game and surged to an 18-3 lead despite two timeouts called by De La Salle coach Frank Allocco in an attempt to stop the onslaught. By the time the first quarter ended it was 23-6. The closest De La Salle came afterward was 60-47, which was almost the final score.

Senior guard Armando Surratt combined with teammates Kevin Smith, Kevin Moore and Quinton Thomas to force numerous De La Salle turnovers. Powe, the 6-7 junior who is considered one of the best in his class in the nation, also was effective tipping interior passes.

"Our defensive pressure gave them trouble throughout the game," said Tech coach Hodari McGovack. "We took them out of what they normally like to do."

Powe and Surratt also gave De La Salle plenty of fits, too, as both finished with 23 points. Powe added 14 rebounds.

"I knew they'd try to do some things to distract me, but we were patient at the beginning," Powe said. "I had a good feeling about this game coming in, but I was so excited. I couldn't go to sleep last night until my brother made me go to sleep."

McGovack wasn't quite as excited as Powe. The coach knows that to maintain the team's current frontrunner status it will mean navigating the minefield that is the Oakland Athletic League.

"We kind of wanted a rematch from last year's NorCal playoffs, but this is not an OAL game," McGovack said. "It's not as big as our next OAL game against Castlemont."

De La Salle's only double-figure scorer was junior guard Matt Schroeder, who hit on four 3-point shots and scored 12 points. The Spartans fell to 12-4 and are expected to drop from the No. 16 in the state ranking they had coming in.

Tech improved to 18-3 and is expected to come up at least a spot or two from the No. 10 statewide ranking it had last week. The Bulldogs also are now in a spot to go back into the Student Sports FAB 50 national rankings. They checked into those rankings earlier this season in December before they ventured to Florida and lost twice at the City of Palms tourney.

In other boys games at Monday's MLK event at St. Mary's College, Riordan of San Francisco (18-1) struggled to a surprisingly close 52-47 victory over Elk Grove; St. Mary's of Berkeley (15-2) edged Vallejo, 77-76; and Jesuit of Carmichael upset St. Joseph of Alameda, 47-45.

Riordan was playing its third game in four nights after recording West Catholic Athletic League wins on Friday vs. St. Ignatius of San Francisco and Saturday over Serra of San Mateo. It showed. After letting Elk Grove hang around in the third quarter, the Herd almost stole it from the Crusaders in the fourth. With 25 seconds left it was Riordan by only 48-45, but John Tofi made two free throws and Marquis Kately dunked right before the final horn. Elk Grove, which played without standout forward Josh Davis, received 18 points from Brett Bowden. Tofi finished with 18 for Riordan and Kately had 17.

While Riordan's record is impressive, the Crusaders are not a threat to Oakland Tech in the NorCal Div. I playoffs since they'll be playing in Div. III. One team that is a threat to the Bulldogs, though, is St. Mary's. Last year's Div. IV state champs (who are playing up in Div. I this season) played at a frenetic pace against Vallejo and came away with the win when a 3-point shot by Vallejo's Amos Carter missed at the final horn. John Sharper had 22 points for St. Mary's and his backcourt partner, DeShawn Freeman, had 17 points and six assists. Junior Warner West and sophomore DeMarcus Nelson of Vallejo are almost as lethal in the backcourt as Sharper and Freeman. The senior savvy of Sharper and Freeman proved to be the difference as the duo continually prevented Vallejo from going on any extended runs by making field goals and free throws. Nelson, the 2000-2001 State Freshman of the Year, definitely looked like the real deal with 27 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Other than De La Salle, St. Joseph was the only other NorCal top 10-ranked squad to lose on Monday. The Pilots lost to Jesuit when a potentially game-tying shot at the final buzzer was blocked by the Marauders' Brandon Carpenter.

Monday's schedule at St. Mary's College also included a pair of girls games. In the first game, Carondelet of Concord downed College Park of Pleasant Hill, 49-32. Then East Anchorage of Alaska blew through the building and took apart Alhambra of Martinez, 75-47. The highest scorer in either of the two girls' games was East Anchorage's Tenecia Macon, who sizzled with 30 points.

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