AZUSA, Calif. -- A meeting between California’s two winningest programs over the last 22 years kicks off Azusa Pacific’s 2014-15 men’s basketball schedule as the Cougars visit UCLA in Pauley Pavilion in the first of two road exhibition games against Pac-12 Conference opponents. After the Oct. 31 visit to UCLA, Azusa Pacific travels to Washington State a week later for a Nov. 7 exhibition against the Pac-12’s Cougars.
Since 1993, no men’s basketball programs in the state of California can boast higher winning percentages than Azusa Pacific, which is 595-166 (.782) over the 22-year stretch, and UCLA, which is 503-220 (.696) during that timeframe.
It won’t be the first time Azusa Pacific has played either school, as the Cougars opened the 2007-08 season with an exhibition game against UCLA, which went on that year to win the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament championships before closing out the season with a run to its third consecutive NCAA Final Four. Azusa Pacific’s only other meeting with Washington State was a neutral-site loss to WSU in San Diego during the 1992-93 season.
After the season-opening exhibitions, Azusa Pacific takes on a challenging eight-game non-conference slate in preparation for the 20-game Pacific West Conference schedule. Six of the eight non-conference games come against NCAA Division II West Region foes, including three contests against programs which advanced to last year’s NCAA regional playoffs. The opening weekend features a difficult pair of games in Pomona, California, against Cal State San Bernardino and Cal Poly Pomona, with two-game trips to Oregon (Nov. 21-22) and northern California (Nov. 28-29) the following weekends.
“This is a very ambitious schedule,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “Our schedule will be as tough as anybody else in our region, and a lot of those games are either on the road or at a neutral site. That should help our strength of schedule if we’re able to put ourselves in contention for an NCAA postseason berth, and I expect that being a veteran team this year, we will be prepared for this type of schedule.”
The 2014-15 home opener is Tuesday, Nov. 18, against NCAA Division III’s Occidental College, and the only other non-conference home game is on Tuesday, Dec. 2, against Cal State San Marcos.
The Cougars’ PacWest schedule begins with five consecutive December road games and concludes with five in a row at home in late February. In between, Azusa Pacific faces a crucial seven-game mid-season stretch which starts with a Jan. 17 visit to Dixie State and continues at home against Point Loma (Jan. 21) and Dixie State (Jan. 24). Up next are three games in five days on two different islands in Hawai‘i, followed by a visit to defending PacWest champion California Baptist to welcome the Cougars back to the mainland.
“With our first five PacWest games on the road, we’re going to need to get used to playing on the road in difficult situations, and that will have to be the norm for us,” Leslie said. “I put this schedule together with the belief that if we finish in the top three of the PacWest, it will be strong enough for us to get ourselves into the NCAA tournament. We need to have a good start before Christmas, but I definitely like our chances closing out the season at home. Our expectation for this veteran team is to contend for the PacWest title.”
After completing its transition period into full NCAA Division II membership in 2014, Azusa Pacific becomes eligible to compete in the six-team PacWest Tournament, which will be held March 5-7, 2015, on the Irvine campus of future PacWest member Concordia University.