The Canoga Park High boys' basketball team started fast and loose against Huntington Park in a City Section 3-A Division semifinal Friday night at Cal State Los Angeles.
But it seemed all show and little go in the beginning. A missed one-handed dunk there, another miss here and a turnover there. Huntington Park was having none of it.
But Canoga Park guard Jamal Haqq will be the first to tell you, it isn't so much how you start, but how you finish.
Haqq, who had four turnovers in the first half, scored 10 of Canoga Park's 28 points in the fourth quarter to guide the Hunters to a 79-59 victory that was much closer than the final score.
"I was just in a rush [in the beginning]," said Haqq, who finished with 17 points. "Coach [Ralph Turner] told me to slow it down and, hey, it turned out all right."
Canoga Park (22-4), seeded No. 4, will face the winner of today's Van Nuys-Narbonne semifinal in the championship game Friday night at Cal State Los Angeles.
After 14 lead changes and five ties, Canoga Park led, 51-46, after three quarters. And that's when the Hunters turned it on.
Canoga Park increased the lead to seven points on a short jumper by Haqq and later to nine points on a steal and a layup by Carloes Harper, who finished with 19 points.
Haqq, who made six of six free throws in the fourth quarter, nailed two free throws to take a 65-55 lead with 3 minutes 5 seconds remaining.
After Huntington Park's Michael Freeman cut the Canoga Park lead to 65-58 by making one of two free throws, the Hunters went on a 14-1 run in the final 2:34.
Canoga Park suffered from defensive breakdowns in the first half and trailed by as many as seven midway through the second quarter, allowing Huntington Park easy layups in a cleared-out lane.
And when the Hunters were given easy baskets, they often did not convert. They missed three dunks before Anthony Ellison finally threw down a one-handed dunk after a steal at midcourt in the final 93 seconds.
"I don't know if it was the interior defense or the exterior defense, but they were not playing with intensity," Turner said. "I don't know if our guys were scared or what. [But] it's to be expected."
The Hunters failed to take advantage of 10 Huntington Park turnovers in the first half, converting only one into two points midway through the first quarter.
Still, Canoga Park outscored the Spartans (14-11) in every quarter but the second and didn't trail by more than seven points.
All five starters finished in double figures for Canoga Park, but none had more than seven rebounds. Ellison scored 13 points, Rene Bernal had 12 and Aaron Lasley, who fouled out in the fourth quarter, added 10.
Sergio Cortes scored 17 points for Huntington Park and Freeman had 14.