In a way, The Master’s University men’s basketball coach Kelvin Starr is glad his team hasn’t clinched the Golden State Athletic Conference title.
“It’s keeping us dialed in,” Starr said. “We’ve accomplished a lot of things, but nothing.”
Saturday, the Mustangs (25-1) can lock in at least a share of the program’s first-ever GSAC regular-season title with a win at No. 8 Westmont College.
Master’s – voted No. 1 in this week’s NAIA Division 1 Coaches’ Top 25 poll – has won 24 straight games and is 11-0 in GSAC play.
Westmont poses the most imminent threat to the winning streak, obviously, but also to the Mustangs’ title hopes.
Master’s leads the Warriors (21-4, 10-1) by one game in the GSAC standings with three games to go. Both teams will finish the season at No. 13 Hope International and Vanguard University (receiving votes), just in reverse order.
When the year began, it looked like Master’s and Hope would duke it out for the title. But the Royals, winners of two of the last three conference crowns, have dropped three league games and hold the outside track to a championship.
Master’s knows its road won’t be easy. Starr expects an electric atmosphere at Westmont on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of TMU’s 74-71 win on Jan. 20.
That night the Warriors held the Mustangs to 38 percent shooting and cut TMU’s lead to one in the final 10 seconds before Hansel Atencia hit a pair of free throws to ice it.
“They are so well coached,” Starr said. “At the end of the day, my biggest concern is being prepared. We’ll play hard. … We’ll be up for that game. I just want to make sure we’re prepared for all facets of the game because they play some zone and do some other things (defensively).”
Another concern: Westmont’s Olisa Nwachie, who finished with a game-high 26 points in the teams’ last meeting.
The springy 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 22 points over his last six GSAC games, going for 30 points and 10 boards last Saturday against San Diego Christian, when Westmont erased a 17-point halftime deficit at home and won by nine.
Nwachie, a St. John’s transfer, pulled down eight boards against Master’s on a night the Warriors outrebounded the Mustangs, by one – a rare feat in 2018.
“That’s a problem. We have to rebound,” Starr said. “We can’t give them second shots. When Westmont gets second and third shots, they’re methodical and they control the tempo.
“That’s what we don’t want.”
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