TMU Insider: Mustangs in the midst of a special men’s basketball season

: TMU's Lawrence Russell scored a game-high 18 points in the Mustangs' 78-66 win over Arizona Christian on Saturday. Master's could be ranked No. 1 in today's NAIA Division 1 Coaches' Top 25.

It might be, at face value, an utterly ridiculous comparison, two very different situations that strangely made me feel the same way: my soon-to-be wedding and Saturday night’s men’s basketball game in Santa Barbara, where The Master’s University claimed at least a share of the first Golden State Athletic Conference title in program history.

Here’s what I mean.

Sunday night, I was grocery shopping with my mom and sister, both in town for next week’s wedding, and as my mom sifted through a pile of avocados and my sister fed her health kick, I realized the week was already slipping away.

TMU’s Brock Gardner was named the Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Week on Monday after he scored 23 points in a win over Westmont College in Santa Barbara on Saturday night. Photo courtesy of TMU Athletics

I get married in six days, and I’m excited. Beyond excited. But I also want to enjoy my family in the meantime, and I can already tell the hours are going way too fast. So, when Yogurtland turned out to be closed later that night, we forged on to Rite Aid for ice cream because I was, and am, determined to enjoy every moment.

That is, to a lesser extent, how I felt at the scorers table at Westmont College on Saturday as TMU played the best five minutes of basketball I’ve seen in my nine years around the program, first as a student, then as a reporter and now as the school’s sports information director.

The Mustangs led by two at halftime but outscored the Warriors 23-5 out of the break. Master’s played with breakneck pace and bonafide precision. Point guard Hansel Atencia sliced through the defense, the ball seemingly on a string.

Brock Gardner, who finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, slammed home a putback dunk and drove the lane for a one-handed flush.

MORE: TMU Insider: Men’s hoops aware but not focusing on potential No. 1 ranking

“Brock is insane,” said center Tim Soares, who finished with 19 points. “… He just plays out of his mind, and he blows all our minds.”

It was – as cliché as it sounds – like each player knew where the others would be, each alley-oop (of which there were at least three) a rehearsed cooperation of skill and raw bounce. The Mustangs shot with confidence. They showed hustle you’d expect from a team far less skilled. All out. Complete abandon.

Master’s, the No. 1 team in the latest NAIA Division 1 coaches poll, won going away 101-82, and I didn’t want it to end. Or at least I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it all – that I didn’t get so caught up in what might lie ahead in the postseason that I forsook the present.

Because, let’s face it, while this team is young (TMU has just one senior) and the program is loaded with momentum after last year’s 27 wins, there’s no guarantee they’ll do this every year. Or, if they do, that they’ll do it with as much style, pizzazz and downright fun.

Master’s, in all likelihood, will challenge for GSAC titles and, hopefully, national titles for years to come. But winning 20 games in NAIA Division 1 basketball is hard to do, and Saturday’s win was No. 26 already, No. 25 in a row. This has been a special season by any standard.

So, as the Mustangs wrap up GSAC play at No. 13 Hope International in Fullerton on Thursday and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa on Saturday, and as I help my fiancé, Sabrina, with last-minute wedding plans, I’ll check the score on my phone. I might even sneak a peek at the live stream Saturday, because these guys are worth watching, and there’s only so many games.

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