SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Azusa Pacific jumped out to a 20-point first-half lead in its exhibition season opener at Westminster (Utah), and the Cougars cruised to an 81-68 victory over the Griffins Friday night.
The Cougars never trailed against Westminster, an NAIA program which was permitted to count the game on their season record and elected to do so while Azusa Pacific classified it as an exhibition contest. Junior guard Troy Leaf led all scorers with 17 points, and senior forward Tyler Monroe was a rebound short of a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds, and he also recorded a game-high five blocked shots in just 20 minutes of action.
“We held them to three points over the first six-plus minutes, and it was a very good defensive game plan for us,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “We showed some real improvement defensively, and it turned into points. All in all, that first half was really good for us because Westminster had some things that they were set on taking away from us, and it got us a little uncomfortable. They really took away some things we wanted to do in the halfcourt, and they made us think and adjust. For our younger guys who hadn’t been in that situation, it was a great learning experience.”
Because of a pregame technical foul assessed to Westminster, which resulted in a pair of Leaf free throws before the opening tipoff, the Cougars led for all 40 minutes of the game. Bertram Hall pulled in three offensive rebounds on the game’s opening possession, allowing Leaf to hit a three-pointer that pushed the lead to 5-0, and sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell’s three-pointer with 13:55 left in the first half gave Azusa Pacific its first double-digit lead at 13-3.
Midway through the first half, Cardwell knocked down a pair of threes to help spark a 17-2 run that lasted just over four minutes, giving Azusa Pacific a 20-point lead, its largest of the game, at 37-17 with 5:44 left in the first half. Cardwell scored 11 of his 15 points in the opening half, and Leaf also had 11 first-half points to help the Cougars take a 45-32 halftime edge, and Azusa Pacific led by double digits the entire second half.
Cardwell scored 15 points and hit three-of-six three-pointers, and Hall added five points with a game-high 11 rebounds. Sophomore forward Sharif Watson contributed eight points, six rebounds, and a pair of steals, and junior point guard Robert Sandoval registered nine points to go with three assists and three steals.
Azusa Pacific wraps up the exhibition series Saturday when it takes on the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Montana Western. The Cougars’ official season opener is a Friday, Nov. 15 contest against Cal State Dominguez Hills, which is one of four games hosted by Azusa Pacific this year as part of the Cougar Classic tournament.