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March 2, 2009
Gary Pine
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific used a 21-6 run to close the first half and then relied on the second-half perfection and dominance of senior center David Burgess to roll to a surprisingly convincing 84-62 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Westmont College Monday evening in the Felix Event Center.

The victory for the NAIA’s No. 18-ranked Cougars clinches the third seed in the upcoming GSAC Postseason Tournament and sets up an immediate rematch between these same 2 teams in Thursday’s opening-round game back in the Felix Event Center.

The 6-foot-10 Burgess notched his ninth double-double of the season with game-highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Dominique Johnson added 14 points while Kimarley Williams and David Stafford each chipped in 9.

“Burgess was a total monster, he really made his presence known in the game,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “We expected a double team on him, we didn’t always know where it was going to come from, but when they do that they also give you something out of it -- either an open shot off the back side or offensive rebounds. And we took advantage of those opportunities.”

With the Cougars holding a 19-18 advantage with 8 minutes left in the first half, Stafford ignited the game-turning run by knocking down a jumper. After a Burgess short jumper in the middle of the paint, Johnson and freshman Mike Meza followed with conventional 3-point plays. When Meza completed the Cougars’ mini 12-0, 3-minute sprint with another jumper, Azusa Pacific found itself up 31-18 and with a double-digit lead that it did not give up the rest of the night.

The Cougars cruised in to a 40-24 lead at the half following a Johnson steal and subsequent breakaway dunk.

In the second half, Burgess assured there would be no Warrior comeback, going 4-for-4 from the floor and making all 5 of his free throws, a nifty accomplishment for a man who entered the game converting just 58-percent of his free throws on the season. A pair of Burgess free throws gave Azusa Pacific a 19-point advantage at 50-31 just 2 minutes into the second half. The Cougars led by as much as 25 on a couple of occasions later in the game.

“The difference in this game is that we played together,” said Leslie. “This time of the year everything that involves individual is out the window, and the guys have bought into that. This was the best team effort we’ve had the entire year. We just didn’t have let down.”

Westmont was paced by Tyler Dutton’s team-high 17 points, but the Warriors were thwarted from mounting a significant offensive attack with leading scorer Dan Rasp plagued by foul trouble. The sophomore forward came into the game averaging over 16 points a game, but he managed just 7 counters tonight in a mere 16 minutes of action.

On the other hand, 13 different Cougars scored. Sophomore guard Mike Caffese had 5 points, but he also registered a game-high 7 assists to go along with a pair of steals.

With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 21-9 overall and for the second consecutive season finishes GSAC play at 14-6. Westmont falls to 16-13 overall, 10-10 in the GSAC.

Azusa Pacific and Westmont return to the Felix Event Center court 72-hours later to tip-off the 16th Annual GSAC Postseason Tournament Thursday (March 5) at 7:30 p.m.

“To be honest, it’s scary to come right back and play them, particularly after a 22-point victory,” added Leslie. “Their coaching staff and players are very intelligent. We’re going to get some different looks Thursday. I don’t want our players to get complacent and think we’re going to see that same team and that same game plan Thursday. We have to prepare ourselves for a lot of things they potentially can do, and we have to hang our hat on how we defend and rebound”

Thursday’s other GSAC Tournament first-round action has Point Loma Nazarene at Fresno Pacific, The Master’s at Concordia, and California Baptist at Biola. First-round winners advance to Saturday’s (March 7) semifinals to be played in Azusa at the Felix Event Center with the first game set for 5:30 p.m. followed by the other semi at 7:30. The championship game, which has an automatic bid to the NAIA Tournament attached with it, will be played Tuesday, March 10, also in the Felix Event Center at 7:30 p.m.