When Cactus guard Trey Lee popped open under the basket for a wide-open layup with six seconds to play, it looked for a moment like the Cobras would be able to erase a 20-point deficit and escape Lake Havasu with the most unlikeliest of victories.
But as the Cobras’ senior gathered the pass from teammate T.J. Rucker and rose for the go-ahead bucket, a Knight came to the rescue.
Havasu junior Bradley Rogers collapsed off his man on the perimeter and swooped in from behind for a block, his third of the game, and the ball careened off the rim, then off Lee out of bounds with 1.5 seconds to play. Havasu threw the ensuing inbounds pass to the far end of the floor, where Jayden Azar eventually collected it to seal a narrow 62-61 win for the Knights.
The game wasn’t always so close.
In fact, midway through the third quarter, playing with a 15-point lead, the Knights inserted most of their bench players and grew the advantage to 20 points after a 3-pointer from little-used senior Krystian Jameson with a minute left in the frame to give Havasu a 45-25 lead.
Havasu (6-4) had dominated the game to the point through suffocating defense and solid passing. The Knights forced 10 turnovers in the first half and held Cactus (5-6) to just two points for the first six minutes of the third quarter.
But, the Cobras were able to find a rhythm at the end of the third quarter, with sophomore Bryce Ward scoring seven straight points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Havasu lead to 47-32 at the end of the frame.
Cactus came out in the fourth quarter in a full-court pressure defense and the Knights had trouble dealing with it.
Leading 54-38 with 5:06 to play, Havasu turned the ball over on three straight possessions and in the scramble to get back on defense fouled the Cobras each time. With little time elapsing on the clock, Cactus was able to score five quick points at the free-throw line to cut the lead to 11 points.
The Cobras cut the deficit to single digits on a 3-pointer from Rucker a minute later and kept the pressure on, trimming the lead to 58-52 with 2:07 to play.
Havasu was able to break the press temporarily, with Rogers getting a bucket and a foul with 1:22 left to increase the lead back to 60-52.
But free throws began to be a problem, first Rogers missing the follow up, then Noah Boyd missing the front end of a one-and-one with 1:15 to play.
Cactus raced down the floor for a quick layup and, after a careless pass landed in the wrong hands, was able to break away for another easy layup, cutting the lead to 60-58 with 50 seconds left.
Havasu senior Cole Wade got inside for a bucket to push the lead back to four points with 32 seconds to play, but a heave 3 from Cactus’ Ben Seale landed and cut the lead to 1, the Cobras immediately calling a timeout to set up the closing sequence with 18.2 seconds on the clock.
Havasu inbounded and got the ball across half court, but a lead pass traveled too far, leaving Cactus with an inbounds pass from the far baseline with 12.1 seconds to play.
The Cobras got the ball in clean, finding Rucker to bring the ball up the court, the junior slicing through the lane and drawing help defense, then offloading a drop pass to Lee under the rim, only for Rogers to end any hopes of the miraculous comeback with a timely block.
“I’m not really happy with the way we finished, but I’m happy that we got the win,” Havasu coach Ted Darnell said of his team in the fourth quarter.
“A win is a win, you can’t take that away from us. But, we’ve got to get better at finishing games if we’re going to make a run for the playoffs. They only get harder from here.”
Noah Boyd had 19 points and six rebounds to lead the Knights. Rogers had eight points and five rebounds to go along with his three blocks and Azar had eight points, six steals and five rebounds in the win.
Rucker and Ward each had 16 points to lead the Cobras.
Havasu is back at home to host Goodyear Desert Edge on Tuesday in another tough region match.
Cactus 70, Lake Havasu 33
PEORIA — The Lake Havasu girls basketball team (2-12) couldn’t keep pace at Peoria Cactus (10-4). falling to the No. 10 Cobras 70-33.
It’s the second loss in a tough region for the Knights, who don’t get much relief coming up, traveling to No. 6 Goodyear Desert Edge on Tuesday.