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Cougars Steal A Victory

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Sophomore point guard Robert Sandoval led Azusa Pacific defensively with a game-high 7 steals in the Cougars' 79-71 win over Trinity Western.

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December 21, 2011
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Tyler Monroe and Marshall Johnson combined for 36 points off the bench, and point guard Robert Sandoval had seven steals to lead the NAIA's No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 79-71 victory over Trinity Western Wednesday afternoon.

Monroe scored a game-high 20 points for the Cougars, adding seven rebounds, and Johnson produced an efficient 16-point effort by hitting five-of-eight from the field, including two-of-four from three-point range along with four-of-five free throws. Sandoval, meanwhile, spearheaded a defensive effort that helped force the Spartans' hurry-up offense into 26 turnovers.

“If you take out our decision making in transition, I think we played a fair game offensively,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “We turned them over a lot and had opportunities to convert at a higher percentage in transition, but we answered back with turnovers far too often. It was a good performance defensively, but we didn’t capitalize like we should have.”

The Cougars never led in the first half and trailed by as many as 10 points three times before closing the half with a 12-4 run that trimmed the halftime deficit to just two points, 39-37. A Monroe dunk in transition was immediately followed by a Johnson trey, giving Azusa Pacific the lead for good less than four minutes into the second half. An 11-3 run to start the second half made it a 23-7 combined run in a 10-minute stretch that bridged both halves.

“The driving force in those runs is when we really dig in defensively,” said Leslie, whose squad finished its previous game, an eight-point win over Cal State San Marcos Dec. 10, with a 12-0 run over the final five minutes. “It started up top tonight with Robert, and that starts a chain reaction. When we get stops, we score better going the other way, and we run a lot better out of missed shots than we do out of made shots. We’re showing our capabilities in what we can do, but what I’m searching for right now is different combinations and lineups where we can do that more consistently.”

Trinity Western was led by Kyle Coston’s 20-point, 12-rebound performance, although he needed 21 shots to get there and committed six of the Spartans’ 26 turnovers. Tristan Smith scored 16 points on four-of-14 shooting, and he committed nine turnovers, contributing to Azusa Pacific’s 26-11 margin in points off turnovers.

Although the Cougars were out-rebounded by 49-37 margin, they more than doubled Trinity Western’s total scoring in the paint. Thirty of Azusa Pacific’s 50 points in the paint came in the second half, as the Cougars pounded the ball inside and came away with a 53 percent (17-for-32) second-half field-goal shooting percentage. Senior forward Anthony Johnson scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, scoring four straight points in the paint after halftime to give the Cougars the lead for good.

Senior guard Justin Haynes added 16 points, going seven-of-10 from the field with five rebounds, and Sandoval finished with eight points and four assists to go with his seven-steal effort. Senior guard Brandon Dunson also dished out four assists, and he also registered two steals while tying Monroe for the game-high with three blocks apiece.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Leslie said. “We’re in a good spot going into Christmas at 8-2 overall, but we’re not playing our best basketball right now, and we haven’t come close to reaching our potential. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and collective buy in from the team to take that next step. We’re two months into the season, but it still feels like we’re a team of new players. It will be really important for us when we get back after Christmas to see how hard we’re willing to compete, defend our home court, and play to the best of our abilities. This team has an opportunity to step forward and prove itself, but they haven’t done it yet.”

With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 8-2 overall, while Trinity Western, the defending CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) runner-up, suffers its sixth straight loss to fall to 6-9-1 on the year. The Cougars host three more Canadian schools next week before returning to GSAC play on Tuesday, Jan. 3, at home against Biola.