Mathieu, Vaqueros knock out Matadors
For 30 minutes, the Arizona Western men's basketball team gave Central Arizona all it could handle in the NJCAA Region I Division I Championship Saturday.
For the next five minutes, DeAndre Mathieu showed why he was the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Mathieu led a furious Central run that turned a close game into a 78-67 home win for the Vaqueros, who advance to host the District 1 Championship on Saturday .
“Dre Mathieu is really good,” AWC coach Harral said. “He's the best player in the league. I don't fault my guys' effort. I felt in the second half we had trouble staying in front of him. Marvin (Whitt) picked up his third foul and from there it kind of steamrolled. We couldn't stop Dre. We'd tell Tanner and Nochi to help, then he'd kick it out to their guys for open 3s.”
Mathieu finished with 26 points and four assists for the Vaqueros (28-4). He keyed a run that gave the Vaqueros control of a game that had seven ties and 11 lead changes in the first 25 minutes.
Central took the lead for good on a 3-pointer from Vincetas Aleksandravicius with 15:19 left. AWC (25-7) kept it within four until Mathieu scored the first of seven straight points for Central — part of a larger 18-6 run that ended on a 9-0 run. The Vaqueros lead peaked at 71-54 with 4:51 left.
During the stretch, Mathieu had four points but also drew the attention of the AWC defense, leaving sharpshooters Aleksandravicius and Austin Cooke open for 3-pointers, with Mathieu getting the assist.
“We shot a bunch of shots this week to get ready,” Mathieu said. “We knew we were going to have to make shots. We made shots today, we made shots last game and now we're region champions.”
Marvin Whitt had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Matadors in the loss.
“Right now I feel like I failed my team,” Whitt said after a long pause after being asked to sum up his two years with the Matadors. “Everybody said I had a great two years here, but I feel like I let down the team. To be honest, I don't know how I feel.”
The win gave the Vaqueros a season sweep of the Matadors after AWC won three games against Central last year – including the region championship in Yuma.
Aleksandravicius made two of his three 3-pointers, while Cooke was 3 for 3. Cooke had 15 for the Vaqueros and Aleksandravicius 10.
When they weren't making the outside shots, Mathieu was driving it to the bucket.
“Coach told me if they don't step up and stop me just take it to the rim,” Mathieu said, who scored 44 in the first two games this year against AWC, including 30 in the first meeting in Yuma. “Keep attacking, keep getting to the rim. And that's what I did.”
Harral said that playing at home helped the Vaqueros find their groove offensively.
“I just felt like they are playing at home, they won the regular season, they are playing with confidence,” Harral said. “Some things don't go our way. Their zone frustrated us when they got ahead.”
Central coach Jordan Dreiling said he expects big things out of Mathieu, a sophomore point guard who also had five rebounds and two steals Saturday.
“He's awesome. He's (one of) the best player I ever coached,” Dreiling said. “He's normally the smallest guy on the court but he has the biggest heart and it fills the entire gym. He's awesome and he's an even better person then he is a ballplayer. I'm so proud of him.”