Matadors set to face Vaqueros in Region I title
In order to get back to the NJCAA District Championship for the second year in a row, the Arizona Western men's basketball team must, like last year, knock off Central Arizona in the Region I Division I final.
Unlike last year, the Matadors have lost twice to the Vaqueros and are in Coolidge for today's 7:30 p.m. tip-off. Last year, the Matadors won all three meetings, including the championship in Yuma.
“The past is in the past,” Matador guard Aaseem Dixon said. “We're focused on tomorrow, and going out and playing our heart out.”
The No. 3 Matadors (25-6) have surrendered an average of 57.4 points per game this year but are giving up an average of 69 points in two games against the No. 1 Vaqueros (26-4). Central won the first game in Yuma 72-64 in January then won Feb. 13 in Coolidge 66-59.
Last year, the Matadors won by two then three points in the regular season before a 57-51 win for their first Region I title since 2009. They lost at the College of Southern Idaho 74-58 in the district game.
“I know how good they are, and I think they know how good they are,” second-year AWC coach Charles Harral said. “They're going to show up to play. I don't think last year counts this year. I don't think the regular season counts this year. Last year we lost to Eastern Arizona both times in the regular season, they come here in the playoffs and we beat them. I think it matters who shows up to play tomorrow.”
This year, the district game will be hosted by the Region I school on March 9, with the winner making the national tournament. First the Matadors need to beat Central, and Harral said not only do the Matadors need to score more, they need to improve their defense, especially in transition.
“They did a really, really good job of beating us down the floor when we played them three weeks ago,” Harral said. “We just have to do better with our transition defense, our hustle, our rebounding. And we just have to relax a little bit and play confident. It's a new game, zero to zero.”
The Matadors earned a spot in the title game by winning at No. 2 Mesa on Thursday, while Central stomped No. 4 Cochise 81-59.
“We're feeling pretty good, pretty confident,” Dixon said. “We're working on a few things and staying strong.”