SIGNAL PEAK — Needing a win to remain in realistic contention for the postseason, the Central Arizona College men's basketball team managed to scrape by South Mountain on Saturday at the George Young Activity Center.
The Vaqueros defeated the Cougars 68-63, using a 12-0 second-half surge to give themselves some breathing room. With five games left before the playoffs, CAC is contending with Eastern Arizona for the fourth and final berth in the Division I Region 1 tournament.
The Vaqueros (9-16, 7-10 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) have posted two straight wins following a four-game losing streak. Their next two games also are at home, where Central is 5-3.
"We're warming up at the right time," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said.
Eastern was 7-9 going into Saturday's action.
Aaron said the Vaqueros need to keep playing solid defense in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Central kept South Mountain in check after allowing a season-low 59 points in Wednesday's win over Tohono O'Odham. The Vaqueros came in allowing 84.2 points, most in the ACCAC.
"The key is we have to limit teams to one-shot possessions," Aaron said.
Saturday's 12-0 run concluded with Andrew Leonard draining 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions. Leonard, the team's top scorer with a 13.4 average, missed the previous two games with an ankle injury.
"He was the momentum-changer," Aaron said. "Those shots were timely and came right when we needed them."
The Vaqueros were clinging to a 45-43 lead when the surge began. When it ended with 11:07 remaining, they were up 57-43.
South Mountain (10-15, 5-12 ACCAC) went scoreless on seven consecutive possessions during that stretch, committing five turnovers and missing both of its field goal tries.
The Cougars outscored the Vaqueros 16-5 to narrow the margin to 62-59 with 4:11 left, but would get no closer.
Trailing 66-63, South Mountain twice missed tying 3-pointers in the final minute before Richard Polanco sank two free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining.
CAC made just two baskets on 12 attempts in the final eight minutes, along with 7 of 11 free throws.
Darion Spottsville led the Cougars with 11 points. Carlos Tovias and Saikou Gueye both had 10 for South Mountain, which trailed 34-31 at halftime.