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With win over Pima, AWC's playoff position to be decided by coin flip
After giving up just two field goals to Pima in the first half, Arizona Western women's basketball coach Patrick Cunningham was worried about a second half letdown.
And while there was something of a down tick in intensity, the first half Matador lead was too much for the Aztecs to overcome in a 68-52 AWC win on Friday at The House — the Matadors' 19th straight win.
The win, coupled with Central Arizona's win at Glendale, give the Matadors a tie for first place in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. A coin flip today will determine the host of the NJCAA Region I Division I final, with the loser of the flip hosting a semifinal Wednesday against Yavapai.
If the Matadors (28-1 overall, 20-1 ACCAC) are as lucky with the coin flip as they were stifling on defense, they'll be hosting the Gauchos on Friday. They built a 15-1 lead before the Aztecs (24-6, 19-3) hit their first field goal, and were up 37-10 in the second half. The Aztecs eventually pulled to within 55-45 with 3:15 left, but never got closer.
“We did how my coach figured we'd do (in the second half),” said Tyrisha Blake, who's 14 points tied Amy Browne for the team high. “We let up a little bit, we didn't play as hard because we thought we already had the game in hand. But they weren't ready to give up.”
The Aztecs entered the game ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll and owners of the top spot in the Region I D-II playoffs, while the Matadors were seventh in the D-I poll. Despite locking up a playoff spot, the Matadors still had something to play for.
“The significance of the game was, there's a final poll, there's a conference championship and a place on the wall, and there's a chance at the best seed,” Cunningham said. “It was largely a big game for us. They can't take the final poll away from you, they can't take the conference championship away from you. By those purposes it was huge for us. They understood that and they wanted those things that couldn't be taken away.”
Now the Matadors need a favorable coin flip result to play just one playoff game at home as opposed to two games, one at home and one on the road. The Matadors won earlier this year in Coolidge against Central, snapping a 167-game conference winning streak.
“All we know is that we're in the best possible position and we hope it's not a Jerome Bettis on Thanksgiving type of thing,” Cunningham said, referring to Thanksgiving Day game in 1998 when the Pittsburgh Steelers running back called tails, the toss came up tails, but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Detroit Lions. “No SNAFUs, but there's nothing we can do about that.”