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Matador men prepare to head to Mesa for Region I Semifinal
Matadors 57, Thunderbirds 44
in Yuma, Jan. 16
AWC : Marvin Whitt 22 points,
Darien Walker 12 points,
Tanner Clayton 10 rebounds.
Mesa: Christian Griggs-
Williams 12 points, Tylor
Wimbish 7 rebounds
Thunderbirds 55, Matadors 52
in Mesa, Feb. 22
AWC: Marvin Whitt 13 points,
Tanner Clayton 9 points/9
Mesa: Shyheim McClelland
14 points/9 rebounds, Tylor
Wimbish 11 points
Friday was rehearsal. Thursday is showtime.
The Arizona Western men's basketball team opens the NJCAA Region I Division playoffs Thursday in Mesa, the same place its regular season ended on Friday with a 55-52 loss to the Thunderbirds.
Both teams had already secured playoff spots, although the loss gave the Thunderbirds (24-6 overall, 19-3 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, forcing the Matadors (24-6, 19-3) into the third seed and a first-round road game.
Coach Charles Harral said he's not too concerned with the team taking to the road in the opener, especially with how tight the four playoff teams — including No. 1 Central Arizona and No. 4 Cochise, who play in the other semifinal Thursday — are.
“I want everyone to understand playing on the road isn't the end of the world,” Harral said. “You had Cochise at 18-4, they are at Central — who was 20-2. Then you had Mesa and us both 19-3. And we've been a good road team. We've only lost two road games in the league, at Central by seven and Mesa by three with a shot to win. So I think that, having Darien Walker back ... (helps) our depth a little bit. And getting the ball to Carlos and Tanner could help us on Thursday.”
The Matadors were 3-3 against the other playoff teams, splitting with Mesa. They won 57-44 in the first meeting in January. Last week wasn't as kind as the team was not only missing key bench player Walker, but struggled with their shooting.
“I didn't feel like a lot wasn't working,” Harral said. “I just felt like we were missing a lot of open shots, which is tough. We held them to 55 points. That ought to be good enough to win. We still made some errors defensively, but I feel that holding them to 55 is pretty good on the road. We just didn't make open shots.”
Marvin Whitt led the Matadors with 15.1 points per game but missed two potential tying shots in the final 10 seconds of the game. Harral said he was convinced his first-team All-ACCAC and all-Region I guard — along with the rest of the team — could fix his shooting problems.
“We came in (Sunday) and shot the ball for an hour as a team,” Harral said. “Shooting is a little bit mental, based off confidence. It's all getting the ball into the right spot with the right people. We're going to work on that, some little offensive adjustments on some things. But winning 24 out of 30 games, we'll try not to change too much.”
Harral also said the team needs to work the ball inside to their big guys more, including Carlos Perez and Tanner Clayton — who was second team on the all-ACCAC and all-region teams.
“We just have to make every open shot,” Perez said. “We need to move the ball around better, too.”
The Matadors surged in the second half of the year, coinciding with Anthony Alston's insertion to the starting lineup at point guard, freeing Whitt up to shoot more.
“We just know it's win or go home now, so we have to be focused and go out there and do what we got to do,” Alston said.
The winner will either travel to Central Arizona or host Cochise for the NJCAA Region I title on Saturday. With how close the teams were in the regular season, Harral said he's not making any assumptions.
“It's very conceivable we can go to Mesa and win, and Cochise could go to Central and win and we could be hosting here Saturday night,” Harral said. “It's also very conceivable that Mesa could be playing at Central and Mesa win the whole thing, 'cause they've already beaten Central twice. At this point, everybody is 0-0 and can beat anybody else.”