Inexperienced when the season began, Hug took on the personality of its first-year coach as the year progressed and it paid off Thursday night.
Four years as an assistant with the Hawks, Keith Crawford focused primarily on defense, and defense is what has Hug in the Division I North region championship.
Every inbound pass was contested. The full-court press was dogged. No shot was uncontested, almost to a fault. And the result was a 66-57 semifinals win over Galena.
“We’ve played 30 games, and that’s the best defense we’ve ever faced,” Galena coach Brian Voyles said. “Down in San Diego, other tournaments, that was the best. We had to work hard to get the ball up the court. That was an awesome display of defense on their part.
“The pressure, there never was a pass or any part of a possession that was easy.”
The unrelenting pressure eventually wore down the Grizzlies, and Hug stamped its spot in the region final for the third time in five years — all three under different head coaches. The Hawks (22-6) will face Carson (14-11) in Saturday’s 6 p.m. title game with the region’s lone state tournament berth at stake.
“You have to always be able to sit down and guard your man,” said a beaming Crawford, an assistant when Hug was region champs in 2009 and 2012. “It’s all about stops. If you can sit down and contain your man, you have a chance to be in any ballgame.”
Jawon Bennett and Jonathan Watson hounded Caleb Wood and Max Erickson up and down the court. Raymond Kerr was in the passing lane more often than not. And Sam Williams affected so many shots at the rim.
“That was our goal,” Williams said. “Make them work, make them work.”
The Grizzlies (24-6) found ways to score, primarily through Wood, and led at halftime. But Hug’s athleticism and will finally prevailed — and a little offense didn’t hurt either.
Williams scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Hawks’ lone player with any significant experience when the season began got help. Bennett added 11 points and six assists. Kerr had nine points, including a momentum-shifting steal and dunk in the third quarter, to go with seven rebounds.
“Raymond Kerr had a huge game. Huge game,” Crawford said. “He helped us rebounding, helped us scoring. He gave a great effort.”
The offensive production of Williams’ supporting cast was just as much Galena’s undoing as Hug’s gritty defense.
“Our goal was if Sam gets his points we have to keep everyone else below their (average),” said Voyles, who as Hug’s coach led the Hawks to the state tournament in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2009. “Bam Watson hit a key jumper and some free throws, Kerr had a big impact on the game.”
Wood led the Grizzlies with 25 points.
“But he had to work for everything he got,” Crawford said. “He can play, yeah.
“We tried everything on him. We tried to keep constant pressure on him, tried to wear him down. He burned us a few times, but my guys gave a hell of an effort.”