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Cougars Get Cumberlands

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March 10, 2010
Gary Pine

AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific will play the University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) in the opening round of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament Thursday (March 18) at 12:30 p.m. (CST), the NAIA national office announced today.

The Cougars, champions on the Golden State Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament, are 1 of 32 teams that will converge on the famed Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., next week to compete in what is considered the toughest college basketball tournament in history. Over the course of 5 days, 31 games will be played to determine the 2010 NAIA national champion, which will have to win 5 games in less than a week to earn the crown.

“We’re excited to be going back to the NAIA Tournament,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “It’s a great tournament and a fabulous week of basketball. The challenge is always high, but we’re honored to be among the 32 best and looking forward to being in Kansas City.”

Azusa Pacific is making its 15th consecutive appearance in the NAIA Tournament, the second longest active streak behind Georgetown’s 19 straight. The Cougars head into the national tournament with 23-9 record (14-6 and third place in the GSAC) and riding a 7-game winning streak after upsetting top-ranked Concordia University, 70-66, last night’s in the GSAC Tournament final. The victory pushed the Cougars up the NAIA ladder and gave them a No. 13 seed for the tournament.

Cumberlands, out of Williamsburg, Ky., is 21-10 and finished third in the Mid-South Conference at 9-5. The Patriots, who are making their 20th NAIA Tournament appearance and their fourth straight, received 1 of 15 at-large berths into the 32-team field.

“Obviously, at this point we don’t know much about this Cumberlands team,” said Leslie, “but we’ve watched them in past years in Kansas City. They’re always big, athletic and well-coached. They come out of a great basketball conference, so they’re battle tested.”

This marks the first-ever meeting between Azusa Pacific and Cumberlands, though the Cougars are 1-1 vs. the Patriots’ Mid-South mates (beat Pikeville in 1997 and lost to Georgetown in the 1998 NAIA semis).

Azusa Pacific is paced by 2009 NAIA All-American guard Dominique Johnson who is second in the GSAC in scoring (17.4 avg.) and has been averaging 19 points over the past 15 games.

The Patriots, who have won 8 of their past 11 games, are led by senior guard Chad Byron, who is averaging 14.4 points and dropped in 15 in Cumberlands’ 82-64 loss to Georgetown in the Mid-South Tournament semifinals.

The Cumberlands/Azusa Pacific winner will get the Evangel/Westminster winner on Friday (March 19) at 2:15 p.m. (CST). Click here to view the entire championship bracket.

The first 30 games will be video-streamed by NeuLion, the parent company of JumpTV. Three different subscription plans for basketball will be available for tournament coverage. Users can purchase the All-Tournament pass, which includes every event offered on College Sports Direct for $39.95. Both men’s and women’s NAIA basketball tournaments can be purchased separately for $24.95 and any single day can be purchased for $9.95. In order to view the streaming, click here.

The Championship final on March 23 will be televised live nationally on CBS College Sports Television with tip-off at 7 p.m. (CST).

For further information on the NAIA Tournament, click here, for ticket purchase, championship history, special events and more.

Follow Cougar Athletics online with Twitter updates, at Cougar Athletics also is available on all web-enabled devices through Azusa Pacific’s mobile website: