RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- The blueprint that led to a Friday night victory was just as good when Azusa Pacific followed it Saturday night for a 71-55 win over Northwest Nazarene at the CBU Classic in Riverside.
Junior point guard Robert Sandoval scored a season-high 19 points and collected a career-high 13 rebounds, finishing with the second double-double of his career. It was his first time in double figures in points and rebounds, and his 13 boards more than doubled his previous career-best in rebounds, which he set with seven in this year’s season opener.
“The last two nights, our opponents have tried to pack it in and keep it slow and ugly and force us to grind it out, and the guys who are going to be successful in games like that are the guys who are tough-minded in that type of situation,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “In the second half, Robert was patient in letting his spots develop for his initial baskets that got it rolling, and then he just started taking over. With the ball in his hands, he was confident and under control, and when they made some nice plays on us, he kept answering.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 3-2 on the season, heading into next week’s Pacific West Conference-opening Bay Area road trip with back-to-back victories. The Cougars take on Dominican University on Thursday, Dec. 5, followed by a Saturday visit to Notre Dame de Namur in the program’s first visit to both schools as a PacWest foe.
Sandoval scored 12 points with eight rebounds after halftime, helping the Cougars build a 34-27 halftime edge into a double-digit margin throughout most of the second half. Azusa Pacific scored seven of the first nine points in the second half before Northwest Nazarene pulled back within seven at 41-34 with 17:35 to play. Sandoval then scored eight points during a 14-5 run that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the game, a 16-point edge at 55-39 with 10:50 remaining.
The Crusaders never got closer than nine points the rest of the way as Azusa Pacific shot 52 percent (16-for-31) in the second half and controlled the boards by a 22-12 margin after halftime. The Cougars finished with a 36-33 rebounding edge for the game and held Northwest Nazarene to a shooting percentage of 38 percent (20-for-53) on the game. In fact, no individual player for the Crusaders shot better than 50 percent from the field in the game.
“We had a big deficit on the boards early on, so to finish on the plus side of the rebounding was a significant swing in the game which was a product of the team effort on rebounding,” Leslie said. “We’ve been a very good rebounding team in spots, and we’ve been awful in spots, and it’s just a growth area that we need to continue to address. Tonight, our rebounding directly corresponded to our success on the scoreboard, and it’s a big part of what we need to do to be a good defensive team.”
In addition to Sandoval’s double-double, to which he added a game-high four steals without a turnover, Azusa Pacific got double-digit scoring in the frontcourt from sophomore forward Sharif Watson and senior forward Bertram Hall. Watson was six-of-eight from the floor to finish with 15 points, two blocks, and a team-high three assists, and Hall hit three-of-four from the field and was a perfect four-for-four from the free throw line to finish with 10 points and four rebounds.
“We were going inside a lot, and the guys didn’t start settling for shots instead of being physical inside,” Leslie said. “I thought our guys persevered and did a good job staying the course even though it wasn’t easy for them down there.”
Senior forward Tyler Monroe and junior guard Troy Leaf each added eight points, while junior guard Kevin Stafford chipped in with a pair of three-pointers for six points.
Azusa Pacific took a seven-point lead into halftime, using a 13-2 run over a six-minute stretch to turn its largest deficit (18-12) into a five-point advantage (25-20) with 4:13 left in the half. Stafford hit a three-pointer to get the run started, and the only basket the Cougars allowed during the stretch came from second-chance points when the Crusaders rebounded two of their own misses for a Grayson Moore putback that put Northwest Nazarene up, 20-17, with 8:45 left.
Over the next three minutes, the Cougars forced three turnovers, gave up no offensive rebounds and collected a pair of its own offensive boards while taking the lead for good with eight straight points. Mario Donaldson hit a jumper with 3:50 left and a pair of free throws with 2:19 remaining, both times trimming the Cougar lead to three points. Sandoval drilled a trey from the corner with 2:01 left to spark a seven-point burst that extended the lead to double-digits at 34-24 before Michael Loomis’ three-pointer as time expired cut Azusa Pacific’s halftime margin to 34-27.
“We did a lot of growing up this weekend, and even though it wasn’t as pretty as we would like it to be, you have to learn how to grind out games and win ugly in spots,” Leslie said. “That’s one of the things that any team with aspirations of being successful needs to learn over the course of the year. When we had the lead, we did not settle for shots that might allow a team to come back on you; we were pretty deliberate in where we were getting our looks down the stretch, and it was definitely good to see that develop over the course of these two days.”
Northwest Nazarene was led by Donaldson, who scored 13 points on a five-of-12 shooting effort and pulled down six rebounds, and Loomis came off the bench to score 12 points, all from beyond the three-point line. The Crusaders’ rebounding leader was Kevin Rima, who tallied eight rebounds with seven points.
After next week’s conference-opening road trip, Azusa Pacific returns home for a PacWest matchup with Fresno Pacific on Monday, Dec. 16.