Matadors must win on the road for national title berth
Having already beaten Mesa twice this season, the Arizona Western men's basketball team is hoping tonight's NJCAA Region I semifinals matchup in Prescott is not third-time's-a-charm.
The Matadors beat the Thunderbirds 82-70 Dec. 13 at The House and 71-67 Feb. 11 in Mesa, but both teams are playing differently this time around.
For starters, the Matadors (20-11) aren't using their full-court press nearly as much, instead relying on their man-to-man and occasional 1-3-1 zone defenses. Mesa (20-10) will also have the services of 6-foot-9 center Mark Fresby, who was academically ineligible for the November meeting.
"We can't come in with the mentality that just because we beat them twice before that we're just going to do it again," forward Robert Hines said. "We can't have a cocky attitude. We have to be hungry."
The addition of Fresby gives the Thunderbirds a starting lineup of four players over 6-foot-6. Forward Ryan Rourke (6-7), and swingmen Fred Marshall (6-6) and Alex Davis round out one of the few squads that is bigger than AWC's.
"They're bigger than we are, but we are what we are," AWC coach Kelly Green said. "We have to stick to what we do: make sure we get the ball inside and attack the paint. We have to be patient on offense."
Hines echoed Green's comments.
"We have to get the ball inside and work from the inside out."
Despite all their height the Thunderbirds aren't a great rebounding team. They don't have a single player in the conference's top-10 and rank sixth (37.6 rpg) as a team. AWC is third (41.0 rpg), but will have to do a better job on the boards than they did in Tuesday's 80-53 win over Central Arizona, according to Green.
"We didn't block out a soul," Green said of the Matadors 39-34 rebounding advantage.
The one thing Green does hope to see from his young team is the defensive intensity it displayed in the tournament's opening round.
"If you can't get up for these kinds of games you shouldn't be here," Green said. "We'll be ready and excited."
With a win, the Matadors would move on to the championship game Friday against the Yavapai-Eastern Arizona winner.
Chris Gabel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6883.