It looked like Corona del Sol was going to run into the Daniel Bejarano express. Instead, the 12th-seeded Aztecs were within one possession in the final 16 seconds before getting eliminated Saturday from the 5A-I boys basketball state tournament.
The University of Arizona-bound Bejarano scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Phoenix North past visiting Corona 67-60 in the quarterfinals.
It should have set up a rematch between the fourth-seeded Mustangs and No. 1 Mesa in Tuesday night’s semifinals at Wells Fargo Arena, but the Jackrabbits were upset by St. Mary’s, so North won’t get a chance to avenge its early-season loss to Mesa.
“We did (want Mesa),” Bejarano said. “”We lost by two in overtime, but St. Mary’s or Mesa, we going to do what we have to do to win.”
Corona was down by as many as 12 in the first half and nine in the fourth quarter, but David Whitmore hit a 20-footer with 16 seconds left to get Corona within 62-60, and the Aztecs called their last timeout.
North was then forced to call timeout on the ensuing inbounds play, but when the Mustangs did get the ball in, Marcel Towns fouled Bejarano, who sank his free throws. Calaen Robinson, who helped keep Corona in the game with six 3-pointers and 21 points overall, missed a long shot and North’s leading rebounder, Alan Williams, grabbed the board .
“In the first half, we played very timid, a lot of unforced turnovers,” Corona coach Sam Duane Jr. said. “We stayed in it. We were down nine, and then we made a run in the second half and we missed shots we normally make.”
It didn’t look good at the outset because each of the first two times the 6-foot-5 Bejarano got the ball, he hit a 3-pointer. By the second half, Duane switched from a zone to man-to-man defense.
Bejarano actually missed five straight field goals and two free throws during a stretch as Corona cut into the North lead.
Towns, who added 15 points for the Aztecs, took a pass from Robinson for a reverse layup with 2:46 left to get Corona within 57-56, but the Aztecs were called for goaltending on the following possession and never again got closer than two.
Down 60-57, Towns missed a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left .
“With 50 seconds to go, we have a shot to tie it,” Duane said. “Going into this game, if you had told me we would be in that position, I would take it.”
North won 5A-II last year and was the No. 1 seed in ’08 but was upset by Marcos de Niza in the semifinals.
“We’re just trying to make history,” Bejarano said. “Everybody hates us. Everybody hates me because I’m going to U of A — we are just to be a dynasty. That’s the best way I can put it.”