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Matadors escape with win at home against Kougars
Patrick Cunningham doesn't expect his team — with three starters at least 6-feet tall — to lose many rebounding battles.
It almost happened Friday and Cunningham's Arizona Western women's basketball team almost lost.
But the Matadors finished strong on the boards and held off pesky Kishwaukee 60-57 at The House '12 Desert Classic.
The Matadors (2-0, No. 17 in NJCAA Division I) and Kougars (0-2, No. 4 in Division II) switched the lead nine times in a game that also had seven ties, with AWC taking the lead for good on a Nikki Villescaz bucket — part of a stretch in which the sophomore transfer from South Mountain scored 13 of the final 15 AWC points.
The Kougars led the rebounding battle most of the night, including holding the edge at halftime — which Cunningham called disappointing. AWC finished with a 30-27 edge on the boards.
“We weren't as aggressive at it,” Cunningham said. “It didn't seem as important to us. We just thought maybe somebody else will get it. We have to understand that ball is the most important thing. I know their coach was disappointed on Day 1 (of the tournament, a loss to Mesa), so they really came out and were really aggressive.”
The Kougars led by as much as six early and led 24-22 after a first half that had six ties or lead changes. The Matadors seemed to take control early in the second half, using their second 8-0 run of the game to build a 32-26 lead with 15:33 left.
After that, no team scored on consecutive possessions until the Kougars scored five straight to tie the game at 42 with 6:18 left. After Jazmin Strane converted a 3-point play, Villescaz kicked off her run, scoring the next nine AWC points.
Villescaz finished with a game-high 22 points but just two assists — although that was enough to lead the Matadors.
“We told her if you do things in the offense, we can start calling things in the system for her,” Cunningham said. “That just gives her a little more confidence. It's hard when you're the ball handler and scorer because you try too hard to score.”
Imari Lyons had 11 for the Matadors and Emilie Muanandibu had 10 on 5 for 5 shooting. Samantha Wallace had 11 rebounds.
The Matadors went up four with 47.5 seconds left. Valerierose Agnello — who led Kishwaukee with 17 — hit a 3 with 6.6 seconds left after Lisette Longomo missed a 1-and-1 free-throw situation. But Villescaz hit a pair of free throws with 4.4 seconds left, then stole the inbound pass to seal the win.
The win came on the heels of a rout of Anoka-Ramsey on the first day of the tournament on Thursday
“This was a step up. We went from a Division III to a high-level Division II,” Cunningham said. “We knew it was a better team and they didn't quite buy into it at first. We thought we could do things that we're just not ready to do yet. We need to depend more on each other, and they did that in the second half and it helped us out.”