Phoenix Central needed three quarters to finally get back into the flow of playing a basketball game after having two weeks off.
But a 32-point final quarter wasn’t enough, as fifth-ranked Laveen Cesar Chavez held on for a 78-75 6A Metro Region victory Tuesday night at No. 10 Central.
On Dec. 23, the last time these teams played, Cesar Chavez (15-4, 4-0) blew a seven-point lead in the final quarter of the Phoenix Union District Holiday Tournament championship game but still managed to beat Central 67-64.
This time, Central (13-5, 3-1) had to try to overcome a 23-point deficit in the final quarter, trailing 66-43.
“We hadn’t played in two weeks and we came out flat,” Central coach Darren Bustos said.
Central, pressing and trapping and forcing turnovers, closed the gap to nine with 3:32 left.
Anthony Hightower tipped in a miss, nailed a 3-pointer, made a steal and Central got within 74-71 on Buka Mbegbu’s follow shot with 50 seconds to play.
Another Cesar Chavez turnover gave Central a chance to tie shortly after, but a turnover in the lane gave Chavez the ball back.
Free throws by Kaleb Martin and Donald Carter gave Chavez a 78-72 lead, before Hightower hit a 3 at the buzzer to seal a three-point loss.
Chavez was running a fast-break clinic in the first half, behind point guard Carter (20 points) and forward Malik Porter (16 points). It built a 46-19 halftime lead and led by 28 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Chavez did not look like a team that hadn’t played a game in two weeks, even though it was missing its best and strongest player, Mike Rogers, who has been out since mid-December for health reasons.
“We talked at halftime about playing that well and thinking it’s easy,” coach Gary Lee said. “Rhythm and everything was going our way because we’re doing the right things, we’re playing hard, we’re moving our feet, we’re sharing the ball. Then we started to get lax on defense.
“Central’s a good team. They have good players. They came out with pride. Not only did they get their pride going but they brought it all the way back. It’s a real testament to what they do.”
Chavez is hoping to get Rogers back by the end of the week. It has won nine consecutive games, six without him.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-3 Martin and 6-6 Isaac Williams, both transfers from Phoenix Carl Hayden who became eligible in the Phoenix Union holiday tournament, are starting to mix in well.
Martin had 14 points and Williams added eight on Tuesday.
“Mike (Rogers) is huge in our backcourt,” Carter said. “He’s my brother. I hope everything is going well for him.
“Kaleb (Martin) came over here and his intensity and hustle is everything for us.”
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert.