As fate would have it, the same 2 teams met in tonight’s Golden State Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Postseason Tournament first round game, and Azusa Pacific gave the Warriors a wink of the eye.
The Cougars turned their game plan inside out, and instead of depending on Burgess, they drained 11 shots from the 3-point arc, the most against any GSAC foe this season, to beat Westmont 85-76.
The win moves Azusa Pacific on to the GSAC Tourney semifinals where the Cougars will meet Concordia University in a 5:30 p.m. game in the Felix Event Center. Fresno Pacific University and California Baptist University will follow in the other semi at approximately 7:30 p.m.
Against Westmont tonight the Cougars scored the game’s first 12 points and held the Warriors without a field goal for the first 5 minutes of play. And when Burgess picked up his second foul just 65 seconds into the game, forcing him to the bench for the rest of the half, it seemed that if the Warriors could weather the early storm, they could make a game of it.
However, the Cougar dropped bombs from all sorts of players and sorts of angles, changing the complexion of the game. Back-to-back treys by Dominique Johnson and Mike Danielian ignited another Cougar run midway through the first half, and when 6-foot-10 forward Brayden Bell knocked down another 3-pointer from the top of the key Azusa Pacific found itself with a burgeoning 18-point lead at 37-19 with 3 minutes left in the opening half.
“We can score,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “Scoring should not be a problem for this team. When we start hitting shots it opens everything for us on offense.”
“We had any shot we wanted in the game, we just made them in the first half and not in the second half,” said Leslie. “The real difference in making those shots was that in the first half we made 3 or 4 passes before we took the shot. We made the defense work and then were in position for rebounds if we missed. In the second half, we just shot too early in our scheme.”
Westmont, which seemed listless in the first half perhaps still smarting from Monday’s loss, picked up its effort in the second half, riding the back of sophomore center Evan Haines who led the Warriors back to within 5 points with 3 minutes of play. Haines collected 14 of his game-high 18 rebounds in the second half, including 5 at the offensive end that led to 13 second-chance points.
“In the first half Westmont was in something I had never seem them run before,” said Leslie. In the second half they were back running their Princeton stuff. Ryan Aijian and Evan Haines really played well for them in the second half and changed the game.”
The Warriors, though made just 2 field goals in the final 3 minutes, and Azusa Pacific canned its free throws, making 5-of-6 to push Westmont away for the third time this season and the 15th time in the past 17 meetings.
Six different Cougars made a combined 11 shots from the 3-point arc, 2 more than Azusa Pacific had made in 2 games combined vs. Westmont earlier this season.
Marshall Johnson and Danielian led a balanced offensive attack with 13 points apiece. Burgess rallied with 10 points, all in the second half, and a team-high 13 rebounds for his tenth double-double of the season. Kimarley Williams also registered 10 points on the strength of 2 second-half 3-point field goals (giving him just 8 on the season), including his first one that stopped a 19-5 Warrior run and put Azusa Pacific up by 9 at 65-56 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Sophomore guard Mike Caffese handed out a game-high 10 assists to go along with 6 points and 2 steals.
With the win Azusa Pacific improves to 22-9 while Westmont has its season come to an end at 16-14. The Cougars now prepare for Concordia which Azusa Pacific in 2 regular-season meetings, 66-63 in Irvine on Jan. 3 and 90-83 in Azusa on Jan. 30.
“Concordia is rolling,” said Leslie. "They’ve won 12 in a row and lost only 1 game since Terrance Worthy came back, and it was up in Fresno, his first game back. We have to be ready for a battle. Our last game against them was rough, and I wouldn’t expect anything but their best against us.”
Tickets for the game are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students with ID. They can be purchased Friday and Saturday at the Felix Event Center ticket office.