PATTERSON — It's far too easy just to assume the Patterson High boys basketball team was able to beat Central Catholic in Wednesday's Western Athletic Conference showdown because the Tigers were able to take advantage of superior guard play.
While true, it is only half the story of the Tigers' dramatic 68-66 victory over the Raiders.
The other half was that Central Catholic's superior inside game was either taken away or squandered, depending on your point of view.
But the bottom line is that Patterson, for the second straight meeting, got a huge game from guard Cariaun Williams, whose 25 points in a very consistent 32-minute effort pushed the Tigers (16-4 overall, 5-0 WAC) into sole possession of first place.
"They're the biggest challenge in our league and it gets all of us really excited to play them," said Williams, who had 21 points in Patterson's regular-season ending victory at Central on Feb. 17, 2012.
"Cariaun plays his best against the top teams," said Patterson coach Agustin Arreola. "Now we need to get him playing 100 percent against some of the teams he perceives as being able to go through the motions against."
Central (16-3, 3-1) has been rolling through opponents this season on the strength of their post play, led by 6-feet, 9-inch center John Fenton. But Fenton was neutralized early when he picked up two very soft fouls in the opening three minutes.
Once in the game, however, the Raiders could not get him the ball. Give some credit to Patterson's guards for their defensive pressure, then give some blame for the Central guards for not looking inside enough.
"When we did get him the ball they got three guys on him, and that's what we face every game," said Central coach Mike Wilson. "We were really shaky in that our guards weren't composed.
"They weren't solid with the ball and weren't able to get into the flow of the offense until the last three minutes. We struggled with the ball handling."
Through all of that, the game came down to a very strange end-game situation one poorly handled by the officials that gave Central a chance to win.
David Henriques hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left that pulled the Raiders within 67-65. Patterson inbounded the ball to Williams, who was fouled immediately, then the horn sounded.
As one official signaled the end of the game, setting off a celebration, the other walked over to the scorer's table to put two seconds back on the clock.
Williams, thinking the game was over, ran to his team's end of the court and began to celebrate, jumping up and grabbing the rim. Since the game was not over, he was hit with a technical.
Williams made one of his two free throws, then Central's Joe Hamilton called a 17-point night by hitting one of the two technical free throws to pull his team within the final margin.
But Central then got possession of the ball in its own end, and got off a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. But Nate Loya's open, but off-balance 3-pointer barely caught iron, saving the game for the Tigers and keeping a possible riot from erupting from the stands.
"The game was intense and everybody - players, coaches and referees - made a few mistakes," Arreola said. "When you get this kind of crowd and this kind of intensity you're going to get some mistakes."
Fenton finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in his limited action, and point guard Donovin Townsend had nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Keegan Sanchez, Williams' running mate at guard, had 15 for the Tigers.
"They're definitely a tough team and tonight they brought out the best of us, bringing out the type of game we need to play the rest of the way," Arreola said. "We showed the type of team we can be when we stay focused for 32 minutes."