By Mitch Stephens
BERKELEY, Calif. - Manny Nodar wasn't skipping, singing or celebrating with Holiday glee.
But the St. Mary's-Berkeley boys basketball coach took much satisfaction in his team's gritty 63-57 victory over a feisty Castlemont-Oakland team on Saturday night.
The Panthers' 10th straight victory to start the season was neither pretty or flowing or artistic.
California's eighth-ranked team, according to MaxPreps, survived a rare off night from the Brew brothers, Will and Chris, who were saddled by foul trouble and suffering from the can't-hit-the-thorny-side-of-a-Christmas tree blues.
Unlike the previous 10 victories, which came by an average margin of 34 points, St. Mary's had to fight.
The host Panthers (10-0) also got a career night from 6-foot-4 sophomore Dominique Lee, who scored a game-high 25 points, which certainly helped.
"This is exactly what we needed," Nodar said. "We needed to get hit in the mouth and step up and fight back. ...It was an ugly win but we'll take it."
Lee made a steal, dribbled three-quarters of the court and sent down a vicious two-hand slam dunk during a 13-2 run to end the third quarter and put St. Mary's in control over the Knights (9-2), who got 14 points from Mico Johnson, 12 by John Green and 10 from Lamonte Horston.
Junior Chris Brew added 10 of his 14 points in the second half for the Panthers, but UC Santa Barbara-bound brother Will Brew had just eight. The Brews, who each had four fouls by the third quarter, combined for just 2-for-12 from the foul line.
"With Will and Chris in foul trouble, I felt I needed to score a little more," Lee said. "My role on the team is kind of the dirty work, but I feel I can score if I need to."
St. Mary's looked in control early, utilizing its quickness and trapping pressure to take a 22-11 lead after the first quarter. But Castlemont, with a similar skill set, began chipping at the Panthers' lead and closed the first half with a 13-4 run to get within 35-31 at halftime.
When the Knights opened the second half with a 12-5 run, finished off with buckets from Green and Horston, they had a 43-40 lead with 3:41 left in the third.
"But then we got cold and started making too many mistakes," said first-year Castlemont coach Hodari McGavock, who was Oakland Tech's head coach during the Leon Powe era. "It seemed like we were on 43 for an hour."
Castlmont didn't score until three minutes into the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Demont Oliver, and by that time it was down 52-46.
The Knights rattled off eight of the next 11, four on back-to-back fastbreak lay-ups by Johnson to close to 55-54.
But Aalim Moor, Lee and Will Brew made consecutive lay-ups off turnovers to put this one away. The Panthers forced 25 Castlemont turnovers and made 19 themselves.
"We made too many mistakes at key times," said McGavock, who led Oakland Tech to back-to-back NorCal Division I titles. "We showed some character by fighting back, but we beat ourselves and let them get away."
St. Mary's didn't help itself by going 8 of 21 from the line. This was one night after going 29 of 34 from the line in a 80-50 Bay Shore Athletic League win over Albany, the team's seventh in 11 days.
"I told the team before the game that they were a good free throw shooting team," Nodar said. "I guess I jinxed them."
Nodar thinks the Panthers might have been troubled by heavy legs, especially against a team that matched them in the quickness and scrap department. Neither team relies on any size - at 6-4 Lee was the tallest player - but converting turnovers into easy buckets.
"I think we showed opposed from the last couple years we have very good depth on this team," Nodar said. "We could survive Will and Chris being in foul trouble because we have guys like the Lees (Dominque's twin brother Demetrius is also a key contributor) and Aalim and Justin Shields to pick up the slack.
"We made a lot of mistakes tonight but we made up for it with a lot of fight."
And a lot of Dominique Lee, who scored 16 in the first half and three key buckets in the fourth quarter. Lee missed the regular season last year but was called up to the varsity during the postseason.
St. Mary's lost the in the Northern California Division IV finals to Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa.
"If (Lee) played the entire season with us last year I think we get to the state finals," Nodar said. "He gives us a whole new dimension down low."
E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ST. MARY'S-BERKELEY 63, CASTLEMONT-OAKLAND 57
Castlemont (9-2) 11 20 12 14 - 57
St. Mary's (10-0) 22 13 15 13 - 63
CASTLEMONT: Sandifer 9, Horston 10, Johnson 14, Oliver 5, Green 12, Griffin 1, Ralls 6.
ST. MARY'S: C. Brew 14, W. Brew 8, Dominique Lee 25, Moor 8, Shields 3, Demetrius Lee 4, Andallo 1.