As wake-up calls go, it was of the five-alarm variety.
The Master's College men's basketball team won seven of its first nine games, including a 100-86 victory over traditionally strong Azusa Pacific, but then came a 93-62 thrashing by Westmont on Dec. 17.
Westmont is a quality NAIA Division I program, but the Warriors looked like an NCAA Division I team against Master's, hitting 32 of 55 shots and holding the Mustangs to season lows of 35.9% (23 of 64) from the field and 13.0% (three of 23) from three-point range.
"We've won all but one game since then so I think that served as a wake-up call," second-year Master's Coach Bill Oates said. "I think we were all shocked with how poorly we played. That game definitely made us look at ourselves and how we were playing."
Master's (29-4) has won 22 of 23--including its last 16--since the Westmont debacle and will play Southwestern Oklahoma State (20-11) at 7:45 tonight in the first round of the 32-team NAIA tournament at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, Okla.
The Mustangs qualified for the NAIA national championships for the second year in a row by defeating Western New Mexico, 107-99, in overtime to win the Far West Region Independents tournament March 6.
Master's, which is seeded eighth, was upset by Georgia Southwestern, 98-86, in the first round last year, but Oates said this year's team is more relaxed.
"Last year we were just real excited to be here," he said. "But this year the players seem more reserved."
Six of the Mustangs' top eight players played in last year's tournament, including starters Mike Penberthy, James Mosley, Leo Gorauskas and Doug Leaman.
Penberthy, who is averaging a 18.3 points and 6.6 assists a game, collected 68 points and 24 assists in two Far West Region tournament games.
Mosley, the Far West Region player of the year, is averaging 18 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Gorauskas, a 6-foot-9 center, averages 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, and Leaman (11.3 points) hit a three-point shot with 10 seconds left in regulation to send the Far West Region title game into overtime.
Penberthy, who had 37 points and 13 assists against Western New Mexico, said the team's attitude is different this year.
"Last year we were just kind of glad to be (in Tulsa) and we ended up losing a game we could have won," he said. "This year we want to . . . win a game or two and then see what happens."
If Master's wins tonight, it will play Thursday against the winner of today's St. Mary's (Tex.)-Central Washington game.
Tonight's game will be broadcast live on KBET (1220 AM).