GLENDALE – The fourth quarter in the Jobing.com Arena on Saturday played out more like an episode of ER than a championship basketball game.
For the Ironwood Ridge boys team, its season and hopes of repeating as Class 5A Division II champion flat lined when Phoenix North’s Robert Arvizu, who woke up Saturday with a 102-degree temperature and battled strep throat all week, hit a 3-pointer from the corner with three seconds remaining, giving his team a 42-39 win.
“It was slow motion,” Ironwood Ridge’s 6-foot-11 senior center Brandon Duliakas said of the game-winning shot. “His form looked pretty good going up. It was the perfect story, I guess . . . for them.”
Ironwood Ridge, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, was feeling good heading into the final quarter with a 34-27 lead and clear control of the tempo of the game. Then No. 2 North’s defense injected a heavy dose of half-court trap that a frustrated Ironwood Ridge offense couldn’t solve, scoring just five points in the final period.
On the other end of the court, North star Daniel Bejarano began slicing through the Ironwood Ridge defense with a surgeon’s precision, nursing his team back to health with 10 of his game-high 22 points in a three-minute span to start the final period.
When he followed his own missed jumper and tipped in an offensive rebound with 5:40 left, he tied the game at 36. His fourth 3-pointer of the game with 4:36 remaining put his team up 39-38, North’s first lead since it was up 15-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Then Bejarano collapsed from exhaustion with 2:41 remaining in the game, causing a several-minute delay after the University of Texas commit vomited on the side of the court and had to be attended to by trainers and coaches. After several minutes, he was helped to his team’s bench, took his jersey off and began walking toward the tunnel toward the team’s locker room before stopping at the end of the bench, taking a drink of water and deciding to return to the game.
“We tried to make things rough on him,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Brian Peabody. “We tried to tire him out, which I think we did. He came out for a couple breathers and we tried to make him work for every basket he made.”
While Bejarano didn’t score the rest of the game, thanks in large part to the strong defensive efforts of sophomore Tyler D’Amore, he certainly garnered all of the attention of the Nighthawks defense in the game’s final minutes, which left slow-shooting, but deadly accurate Arvizu wide open for the game winner.
“I was supposed to get it,” Bejarano said of the final play, “but they were so focused on me, and Robert was open. We’re a family and I trust every single one of my players.”
Duliakas, who scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the second half, was limited in what he could do on the defensive end of the floor after three first-half fouls sent him to the bench with 3:57 remaining in the second quarter.
“He’s a really good shot blocker and you could tell he was timid (in the second half) and didn’t want to go after balls he normally would go after,” Peabody said.
Hoisting the 5A-II championship trophy on Saturday afternoon was a vision Bejarano had played out in his head ever since playing Ironwood Ridge in Tucson early in the season.
“We had seen their (2008 championship) trophy at Ironwood Ridge and we knew it was ours,” said Bejarano, who scored 21 in a 55-52 win at Ironwood Ridge on Dec. 4.
That 2008 Ironwood Ridge championship trophy, Tucson’s first Class 5A boys basketball championship since 1982, seemed destined to get some company during most of Saturday’s game. Senior Chad Carter grabbed several key rebounds and got the Nighthawks going early by scoring all eight of his points in the first half. Sophomore point guard Lawrence Hampton was a thorn in North’s side throughout the game, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring nine points.
But the Nighthawks offense sputtered with just five points in the final quarter – two Duliakas baskets and a Chad Arechiga free throw – as it simply couldn’t get past North’s half-court trap.
“I had watched some tape on them and had noticed they had some problems with the half-court trap,” North coach Joseph Bustos said. “I told my coaching staff that if we get behind, let’s go to the half court trap and it worked really well.”
It worked to perfection, even if Ironwood Ridge was expecting it.
“We knew they were going to do it sooner or later,” said Peabody, adding his team talked about expecting North to start the trap if they fell behind late.
“We knew it was coming, we just didn’t attack . . . You’ve got Bejarano at the top and that’s obviously scary when you have a 6-foot-6 athlete at the top of their trap. But we didn’t attack it.”
Ironwood Ridge finishes the season at 27-5 and winners for the second straight season of the 5A-II Southern Region championship. None of that seemed to matter much Saturday afternoon as a line of somber Nighthawks players slowly shuffled out of their locker room.
“Great game,” Peabody said. “Unfortunately somebody had to lose and it was us, but it was two really good teams that could have played any harder.”
– Reporter Christopher Veck contributed.
No. 2 Phoenix North 42, No. 1 Ironwood Ridge 39
(Class 5A Division II Championship – Glendale, Jobing.com Arena)
-SCORE BY QUARTER-
Phoenix North 15 6 6 15 – 42
Ironwood Ridge 14 9 11 5 – 39
NORTH – Daniel Bejarano 22, Robert Arvizu 8, Kwame Dailey 8, Shabaz Lewis 2, Chris Chairez 2. TEAM TOTALS: 18 0-2 42.
IRONWOOD RIDGE – Brandon Duliakas 14, Lawrence Hampton 9, Chad Carter 8, Chad Arechiga 3, Tyler D’Amore 3, Matt Walter 4. TEAM TOTALS: 15 6-8 39.
3-pointers: NOR 6 (Bejarano 4, Arvizu 2), IR 3 (Hampton 2, D’Amore 1). Team fouls: NOR 13, IR 12. Fouled out: D’Amore (IR).
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.