YUMA, Ariz. – A monstrous second quarter propelled the Arizona Western College women’s basketball team past Eastern Arizona College on Tuesday night in the Region I Semifinals. The Lady Mats outscored EAC 23-6 in the frame to erase a deficit and build a big lead. With the win, the Lady Mats advance to the Region I Finals for the first time since 2012.
The entire team caught fire and went 10-19 from the floor and 3-5 from the three-point line. Eight players scored in the quarter, and a 19-0 run proved to be the difference.
Down 23-19 with less than six minutes to go in the half, RJ Blackburn drained a three that got the juices flowing for AWC (23-8 overall). Nicole Smith forced a turnover and made a fast-break layup that put the Lady Mats up 24-23, and the run was on.
Maria Marquez buried a straightaway three, and EAC (20-11 overall) was called for a push under the basket after the shot went through. On the bonus possession, Mathilde Diop shoveled a pass inside to Gloria Mulumba for a layup, and the Lady Matador lead grew to 29-23.
Eastern Arizona couldn’t hit a shot once Veronica Preciado picked up her second foul and went to the bench. The Gila Monsters only hit three shots in the quarter and turned it over five times.
Meanwhile, the Lady Mats kept sharing the ball, and Audrey Mulumba drilled a three to put AWC up double digits, 34-23. Krissy Sampson capped the run with a shot that put AWC up 38-23 with 23 seconds to go in the half. EAC’s Tania Pierre-Emile hit a putback just before the half to make it 38-25 at the break.
In the third quarter, Eastern started to relentlessly attack the basket, and the Gila Monsters earned a ton of trips to the free throw line. The team went 11-12 at the stripe, but Arizona Western answered every time before a big run started.
With the lead trimmed to 41-30, Marquez hit her third three of the game, and Sampson knocked down a shot that pushed the lead to 16 points. Marquez finished with 12 points, and Sampson had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Arizona Western pushed the lead out to 19 points with 1:05 to play in the third, but Eastern scored five straight points to end the quarter.
The Gila Monsters stayed on the attack to start the fourth quarter, and it started to pay off. After the Lady Mats took a 61-45 lead, EAC reeled off eight in a row while AWC stayed stuck at 61.
Blackburn hit Sederia Carter for a layup after AWC beat the press, but Preciado hit a pair of free throws to keep the lead under 10. Sampson knocked down a runner, and Diop picked off a pass before going coast-to-coast for an easy lay-up and a 67-55 lead with 2:50 to play.
From that point on, it became a free throw shooting contest. With less than a minute to play, Krissy Sampson hit one free throw to put AWC up 73-59, but EAC kept going to the free throw line. With 25 seconds, EAC drained a three that cut the lead to 76-66. Sampson went 1-2 from the line, and Regan McCarty hit her first three of the night to trim the lead to 77-69 with 16.5 seconds left.
AWC turned it over before fouling Preciado with 16.2 seconds to play, and Preciado hit two more free throws to make it a two-possession game: 77-71. Diop was fouled and calmly sank two free throws with 13 seconds left that effectively ended it. She stole the ball one last time and hit a layup before the buzzer for the final score. She had 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, four blocks and three steals.
Audrey Mulumba also had 16 points for AWC and added six rebounds. Preciado led all scorers with 25 points for EAC.
The Lady Mats head to Cochise College on Friday night for the Region I Championship. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 pm, and the game will be broadcast on 560 AM KBLU.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,400 certificates and degrees in 2015-16.