Mavs don’t let physical play bother them in victory

Photo by Pat Christman, Special to The Daily Sentinel — Michael Dominguez tries to drive Saturday despite being held by a Winona State player during Mesa State’s 73-68 victory in the NCAA Central Region tournament.


To listen to Mesa State’s post-game press conference with coach Jim Heaps and players Michael Dominguez, Brian Kenshalo and Sean Flohr:

To listen to Winona State’s post-game press conference with coach Mike Leaf and players Ben Fischer and Jon Walburg:

MANKATO, Minn. — Dressing in matching travel warm-ups is not how the Mesa State College men’s basketball team rolls.

The Mavericks prefer good old-fashioned sweat pants and hoodies. Their coach, although nattily dressed for games, is most comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt.

And when they trot out onto the floor, they certainly don’t strike fear into their opponents.

“You mean to tell me we don’t look intimidating out there?” senior guard Michael Dominguez said with a grin Saturday night as his coach, Jim Heaps, and teammates snickered.

Well, no, not really.

“They’re not as physical because they’re skinny,” Heaps said.

That skinny group of players, though, doesn’t back down against bigger, stronger, more athletic teams.

That was never so evident as in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament, when the skinniest of the skinny, Dominguez, was pushed, shoved, bumped and held as he tried to cut through traffic.

It’s been the case the last half of the conference season, ever since teams got their first look at the RMAC and Central Region player of the year.

The book on Domiguez is he doesn’t like physical play. You can take him out of the game if you push, hold and bump him.

Saturday, Dominguez didn’t let the physical play bother him. Instead, he made sure the guys with the hot hand, Brian Kenshalo and Sean Flohr, got the ball. And when he was fouled, Dominguez made Winona (Minn.) State pay, hitting all 10 free throws in the Mavericks’ 73-68 victory.

“We had a few games there (where we didn’t shoot well) but we have good shooters who weren’t shooting well,” Heaps said. “It was just a matter of time. That was the difference in the ballgame. The kids stepped up and hit free throws and did it the whole game.”

Although this team isn’t like some past Mesa State teams, with strong, physical post players who made teams pay for coming in the paint, the Mavs certainly don’t mind it when things get tough.

“It felt a lot like practice, to tell you the truth,” senior guard Sean Flohr said. “It almost makes me feel more comfortable to have a game like that because it’s what we go through every single day.”

Rarely a day goes by in practice that somebody doesn’t have a bloody lip or nose. And there’s never been a practice when bodies don’t hit the floor with a resounding thud.

More than not being looked at as an intimidating team, the Mavs feel they aren’t respected up North.

“We don’t care what other people think,” Dominguez said. “I’m a little stat rat, I look at all the message boards and they don’t pick any of the RMAC teams to win, but among ourselves, we came here to win. We don’t think it was an upset. We’re the two seed and I’m sure everybody else thinks it was an upset, but we came in with the mentality we’re going to win.”

This club plays to its strengths, Heaps said, which is perimeter shooting and playing together, being patient and working hard defensively.

And sure, he said, the Mavs might not be the most impressive-looking team when they hit the floor.

“I think teams look at us as underdogs,” he said. “You watch us warm up… I’m serious, I don’t think anybody here would be honest (if they) say physically we match up. We kind of take an underdog mentality approach from the get-go.

“Like Mike said, we don’t worry about anybody else, don’t worry about where we’re ranked. We worry about us and being able to look in the mirror. These kids have a lot of confidence, they believe in each other and I’ve said it numerous times, the total is much greater than the parts.”

Heaps would probably lay odds on his guys winning a game of H-O-R-S-E, but probably not one-on-one.

“You look at us individually, if we went out there and played one-on-one games against most of these teams, we probably wouldn’t have a chance,” he said. “But if you let us play as a team and work together, the team chemistry part of it, then we feel we can play with anybody.”


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