It was supposed to be a Carson High coronation; the Senators' first regional title since 1995.
Somebody forgot to tell the Hug Hawks. Hug turned up the defensive pressure, and the Carson boys wilted.
Hug outscored Carson 20-6 in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, and then outscored the Senators 12-8 in the extra period to emerge with a 53-49 victory in the Division I regional finals Saturday night at Morse Burley Gym.
Hug moves on to next week's state tournament in Las Vegas, while Carson will sit home pondering what should have been.
"That stings," said coach Carlos Mendeguia, whose team reached the regional finals for the first time since 2003 and finished the season 16-12. "That type of intensity takes so much out of you. We expended so much energy to play great defense, we were gassed."
"I always thought we were going to win even when things were starting to go bad," said senior forward Chris Lopez said. "When they started to trap us in the backcourt, we couldn't counter against it."
Lopez said he noticed a difference in Hug, mostly in the fourth quarter.
"That was one helluva defensive effort by my team on the defensive end of the floor," Hug coach Keith Crawford said. "Those Carson kids played hard. They never stopped fighting the whole game."
Carson had a 39-30 lead with 4:13 remaining, and that's when things went south on Carson. The Senators missed four layups in a span of approximately a minute and also turned the ball over three times, the last one coming with a minute left when the Senators were trying to hold the ball for the last shot.
Leading 39-31, Matt Nolan missed a layup which led to a 3-pointer by Raymond Kerr. On Carson's next possession Kyle Denning missed a layup, and then committed a foul. Felix Cox drained both free throws to make it 39-36 with 3:17 left. Rafe King, who led the Senators with 20 points, knocked in two free throws to make it 41-36 with 3:05. Those would be the last points in regulation for Carson.
Carson turned the ball over on its next possession, and after a layup by Rian Narra made it 41-38, Nolan missed a layup and Lopez missed a tip attempt. Kerr came down and scored to make it 41-40 with 1:44 left. After a time-out, Carson turned the ball over and Narra tied the game with a single free throw.
Carson turned the ball over again, and Hug held it for the last shot but Masaki Nakayama missed at the buzzer.
"In a playoff game every possession is crucial," Mendeguia said. "It's so key when you miss a layup or make a turnover or don't get a rebound."
The teams traded baskets to start the overtime, and then Hug went ahead 49-45 on an inside shot by Kerr and a putback by Narra. King countered with a jump shot, but Cox drained a foul shot to make it 50-47. After the teams traded turnovers, Nolan made two foul shots to make it 50-49 with 31.9 left.
Carson fouled Sam Williams, who spoiled that strategy by making both shots. Carson still had a chance to tie, but Nolan's 3-pointer was off the mark and Alan Cohen missed the putback.
Hug's comeback wiped out great first half by the Senators, who despite shooting just 33 percent, led 23-13 after the first 16 minutes. Carson held Hug to 30 percent from the floor in that span.
"We were doing great," King said. "We were getting all the rebounds. That's what made us go ahead by 15 (30-15 with 6:10 left)."
That, and a combined 19 points from King (12) and Lopez (7).
"We knew we would have to play great defense," Mendeguia said. "We did an outstanding job defensively. We bottled up Sam Williams (4 of his 13 in first half). We played with a lot of energy."