SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- It’s the extra man, the extra pass, and tonight, the extra half. It’s a worn out script that works quite well for the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific, which continually wears out its opponents.
Down by 1 at halftime, the Cougars took control of the second half and slowly but consistently pulled away, putting a lockdown on defense to beat Westmont College, 75-46, in a Golden State Athletic Conference victory in Murchison Gym Saturday night.
“We played 40 minutes of great team defense,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie, who has never lost to Westmont in his 4 years at the Cougar helm. “We got tough and defended our tails off, and we sustained it the whole game.”
While the Cougars have won 4 straight, they’ve taken 18 of their past 19 games, and most them look similar in form and fashion tonight’s methodical beat-down – other than the Cougars’ poor first-half shooting.
“We got our looks but just had a horrible half of shooting,” said Leslie. “We got the same looks in the second half, began to knock them down and then picked up the tempo at our offensive end.”
Senior forward Caleb Burgess came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points in 22 minutes to lead a quintet of Cougars in double figures, and Azusa Pacific held Westmont to a paltry 16-for-62 (.258) shooting from the floor to hand Westmont its worst home loss in 7 years.
The Warriors led 23-22 halftime as the 2 teams went 17-for-60 from the floor. However, the Cougars found their shooting touch after the break and scored the first 5 points of the second half to take their biggest lead up to that moment in the game, 27-23 following a Robert Sandoval lay-up.
Later, Azusa Pacific put together a 19-4 run over a 6-minute stretch in which senior forward Danny Nugent scored the 7 points in the final 77 second of the run. His only 3-pointer of the night put Azusa Pacific up 56-40.
A Preston Branson 3-pointer, one of 4 treys for the sophomore on the night, momentarily slowed the Warrior bleeding, but Westmont made just one field goal over the final 6 minutes, going 1-for-8 while committing 4 of its 13 turnovers in the closing minutes of the game.
“Westmont never got comfortable,” said Leslie. “We took everything they wanted to do away from them and just sapped the energy out of them. They were almost lifeless out there. We were running whatever we wanted in the half court game because they didn’t have any legs left.”
The Cougars closed a hot-shooting second half by going 7-for-11 and scored 19 of the game’s final 22 points to hand Westmont its worst GSAC loss since Concordia also posted an identical 29-point thumping (86-57) on the Warriors in Murchison Gym back Jan. 3, 2004.
Reggie Owens added 16 points and was one of 3 Cougars to collect a team-high 6 rebounds. The freshman Sandoval added 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go along with 3 assists, while All-GSAC wing Marshall Johnson chipped in 15 points to go along with 6 rebounds and a couple of assists. Nugent finished with 10 points, all in the second half.
Senior point guard Mike Caffese came off the bench to hand out a game-high 6 assists to go along with 3 steals in 17 minutes of play.
“Mike had a terrific game,” said Leslie. “He didn’t score much but he got us going and found the guys in the right spot on the floor and then bothered the Westmont guards on defense.”
The 47 points are the fewest scored by a Westmont team against Azusa Pacific in the 85-game series history. In addition, the victory likely assures 4-year Cougar seniors David Stafford, David Gantt, Ashton Roberts and Caffese and Burgess to become the first Cougar senior class to never to lose to Westmont (9-0).
“We talked about this senior class going undefeated against Westmont,” said Leslie, “and we knew it would be fuel for the Westmont players who had never beaten us. However, our guys kept their focus and were determined not to let Westmont beat them.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 23-3 overall, 14-2 in the GSAC. Westmont, which was led by Branson’s game-high 18 points, falls to 18-7 overall, 10-6 in the GSAC.