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Wallaces scores 20 on 19th birthday in AWC win
Samantha Wallace's teammates told her that on her 19th birthday, she better score at least 19 points.
And while her biggest shot of the night provided her with her 16th, 17th and 18th point, she still reached teammates' goal and helped her Arizona Western women's basketball team top Mesa 66-61 Wednesday at The House.
“Everybody told me I was 19 today, and if I don't get 19 points the girls told me they'd do all kinds of stuff,” said Wallace, who celebrated with 20 points and nine rebounds and fouled out with 22.8 seconds left. “I just wanted to help my team.”
The Matadors (14-5 overall, 7-3 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) led by as much as 10 early but Mesa (13-4, 7-3) battled back. With the game tied at 50, Wallace hit a 3-pointer after Jacy Pagala had drawn a key charge down the other end. That was at the 2:48 mark and the Matadors never trailed again.
“We survived the beginning of both halves, we were pretty sluggish and they were pretty aggressive, and we survived it,” said AWC coach Patrick Cunningham, whose Matadors trailed 11-5 early but lead 26-16 later in the first half. “And our defensive intensity remained more consistent. ... We had a lead and we weren't as focused as we should be, but we recovered from it.”
Wallace broke the mandated 19-point barrier with 1:47 left, hitting another jumper. At 6-foot-3, Cunningham said, she presents problems for other teams.
“It's just so hard for teams to match up. They're starting to realize she can hit the open shot. She can knock it down, so we allow here to take it.”
Cunningham said the defense stepped up late in the second half after struggling early. Mesa had 21 points at halftime but scored 23 in the first 12:33, and just three field goals after that and one in the last 4 minutes.
“The last couple games we've been working on our traps,” Wallace said. “We've been working on that a lot, and trust me it worked. Coach was very proud of us and I'm happy today.”
After Wallace's 3, the Thunderbirds didn't score again until 24.3 seconds left, and that was a 3-pointer that cut the AWC lead to 62-55. The rest of the game took place at the free throw line.
The Matadors finished with nine steals, four by Imari Lyons, making her first start after a one-game injury absence. With AWC up six and Mesa with the ball in the last 20 seconds, Jazmin Strane picked off a pass and was fouled, making both free throws to push the lead up to eight with 8.3 seconds left.
“They're the best defensive team and it was going to be a slug-it-out deal,” Cunningham said. “We don't give up when they score a couple baskets. We play through it. We proved it with some steals there at the end.”
AWC sophomore Lisette Longomo scored six points, all in the first half. She missed 10 games earlier this year, and this was her fourth game back off the bench — and those were her first field goals since before her injury.
“She was 0-fer the last three games. She hadn't made a field goal,” Cunningham said, putting emphasis on the last part of the sentence. “I told her we'd call a timeout to celebrate and we didn't, but she's starting to get a little more comfortable.”
Strane had 15 for the Matadors. Mariah Willadsen had 26 for the Thunderbirds and Madi Austin 23. No other Mesa played had more than five points as the Thunderbirds shot 40.4 percent from the field and were out-rebounded 33-29.
“The mindset was that we must win,” Wallace said. “So we played strong, and it was my birthday gift as well.”