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Good Night From La Mirada

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March 3, 2008
Gary Pine
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LA MIRADA, Calif. – There may be some disappointed souls in Azusa tonight, but hearts are broken in Santa Barbara, and no one in La Mirada is shedding a tear for the residents in either town.

To the people of Biola University no rivals are more dreaded than Azusa Pacific University and Westmont College. So imagine the ecstasy of Eagle fans near and abroad when on one short jumper with 1.9 seconds left, Biola’s Rocky Hampton took down both teams tonight.

They rushed the floor in celebration at Chase Gymnasium, while at Murchison Gym they simply fell to the floor.

Hampton’s field goal capped an amazing comeback in which Biola rallied from 12 down in the final 9 minutes to upset the NAIA’s No. 15-ranked Azusa Pacific, 51-49, before a standing-room-only crowd at Chase Gymnasium Tuesday night. The victory sends Biola into the GSAC Postseason Tournament and slams the door on Westmont’s season, keeping the Warriors out of postseason play for the first time in 3 decades.

Biola and Westmont entered this – the final night of regular-season play -- tied for the last berth into the upcoming 8-team GSAC Postseason Tournament. In order to secure a postseason spot, Westmont had to beat The Master’s College tonight in Santa Barbara, and then needed Azusa Pacific to beat Biola. All Biola had to do was match whatever result Westmont produced.

Several minutes before Hampton’s game-winning basket, Westmont’s Andrew Schmalbach nailed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left to lift the Warriors to a thrilling 81-79 victory over The Master’s. At the same time some 130 miles south back in La Mirada, Azusa Pacific owned a comfortable 43-31 advantage over Biola with 9:33 left in that game. The Cougars had been and still were in control of the game. All looked good for Westmont.

However, a note must have been passed to the Biola bench, alerting them of the Westmont result. Now the Eagles had to match the Warrior victory, and over the final 9 minutes, the Eagles played as if their hair was on fire, outscoring Azusa Pacific, 18-4, to rally for the stunning upset and a spot in Thursday’s GSAC Tournament.

The prize for Biola’s 9-minute sprint? A date with GSAC champion Concordia University in Irvine, Calif. But at least the season continues for another game.

For the moment the satisfaction of playing for another night may take a back seat to the shear pleasure of beating Azusa Pacific. Not only do the Eagles snap the Cougars’ 8-game winning streak, which matched the longest in the GSAC this year, they also break a personal 6-game losing skid to the Cougars.

Azusa Pacific started play tonight as the conference’s hottest team, and that title appeared to be safe in hand after the Cougars took a 28-22 halftime lead and blew it up into a 41-26 cushion following a Mike Danielian 3-pointer with 14:46 left in the game. However, the Cougars made just 3 more field goals the rest of the night and missed 3 free throws, including 2 by Davon Roberts with 31 seconds left and the game tied at 49.

The door was left open for Biola to walk through, and the Eagles did so with pleasure.

“In this conference, the difference between winning and losing is so fine that it comes down to effort and out-working your opponent,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “For the first time in the past month, we got out-worked. We lost our poise in a hostile environment, and we stood around and watched Biola earn this victory. They deserved it.”

Indeed, the Cougars seemed to wilt under the physical nature of the game. If Biola pushed, the Cougars buckled. For the first time in 9 games the GSAC’s leading rebounding unit was beat on the boards, 39-30, (the Cougars have been out-rebounded just 4 times this season and they lost all 4 games). They managed a season-low 8 free throw attempts.

Still, they had a chance to win, but the Cougars missed 11 of their final 12 shots. Biola, on the other hand, made 7 straight shots, and when Marlon King converted a lay-up with 4:33 left in the game, the Eagles had their first lead of the night at 46-45, and hearts in Santa Barbara skipped a beat.

Roberts gave Azusa Pacific, and Westmont for that matter, a reprieve with a basket that put the Cougars back up 49-48 with a minute to play. King tied the affair with a free throw, and when Roberts was fouled on an offensive rebound of a Danielian miss, Azusa Pacific appeared to be in good shape with a 72-percent free throw shooter over the past 11 games at the line. Roberts, though, clanked both attempts, and following a time-out, Biola worked the final 30 seconds for Hampton’s game-winning shot.

“I don’t believe Biola won tonight because they were playing for something more than us,” said Leslie. “We were playing for a conference championship. That’s a pretty big deal. We had no idea what was going on between Concordia and Cal Baptist. It just came down to a lack of poise for us. For the first time in the past month, I saw us pull apart rather than pull together.”

Todd Martin, who carried the Cougars in the early going with his long-range shooting, led Azusa Pacific with a game-high 14 points. Roberts added 12, and Danielian finished with 11.

Biola was paced by Hampton’s 14. Danny Jones added 13, including 9 in the second half.

Next up for Azusa Pacific is the first round of the GSAC Postseason Tournament. The Cougars host Fresno Pacific University Thursday (March 6) at 7:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center. Tickets for the game are $7 for adults, $5 for students with ID.

“I expect a positive response from this loss because simply it’s our only option,” said Leslie. “We had guys not show up tonight, and this is March. If you can’t find reasons to play in March then you have no reason to be playing basketball. We’ve shown too much character the past month to throw it all away. This isn’t going to be the end of the world because it doesn’t change our standing or seeding in the conference tournament. We’ll be in pretty good shape if the leaders take ownership.”