COSTA MESA, Calif. –- It was like a breath of fresh air. Something new. Something different. Something completely relaxing and enjoyable. For the first time in 3 weeks, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific got to sit back and roll its way to an easy victory, blitzing GSAC rival Vanguard, 111-89 Saturday night in Costa Mesa.
After 5 straight suspense-packed victories, including a trio over nationally-ranked teams, Azusa Pacific was afforded the opportunity to cruise this time after jumping out to a 19-4 lead less than 7 minutes into the game, making 8 of its first 11 shots. The Cougars, who have been shooting well in the past week (52% over the past 2 games), turned up heat tonight and shot a torrid 71% (22-for-31) in the opening half which allowed them to sprint away from the Lions, and finished with a 66% (38-for-58) clip for the game.
“Tonight was one of those momentum things,” said Cougar Coach Bill Odell. “Caleb (Gervin) has been shooting well lately and continued to do so tonight and it was a carry over for the whole team. Jeff (Staniland) shot well and so too did Brett (Michel). We’re getting good shots because we’re executing better.”
For the eighth time in the past 10 games, All-GSAC guard Caleb Gervin led the Cougars in scoring with 20 points in just 22 minutes of play. He dropped in 14 in the first half when he canned 5-of-7 shots, including a pair of treys, to stake the Cougars to a hefty 28-point intermission cushion (54-26). He also collected games highs of 7 assists and 3 steals.
After being shutout in last Tuesday’s victory over Biola, junior forward Brett Michel responded with 17 points on a perfect 6-for-6 effort the floor which included a career-high 5 from the 3-point arc.
“I expected us to get better in the area of shooting,” said Odell. “We have a lot of good shooters on the team and it was just a matter of us executing our offense.”
In all, 6 different Cougars scored in double figures. Ladrick Simon added 16 points (7-for-8) while Jeff Staniland and Ryan Dillon each chipped in with 12. Front-linemen Danny Rosales and Lance Soderberg tossed in 11 points of their own.
Vanguard, which has now lost 9 straight to Azusa Pacific, was paced by Tim Hartman’s game-high 22 points.
The Cougars used a 17-4 run over both halves to own a 31-point lead less than 15 seconds into the second half and were still up by 30 (87-57) with 9 minutes left in the game.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific pushes its current winning streak to 10 straight to improve to 15-2 overall and solidifies its hold in first place in the GSAC, moving to 7-0 in conference play, 1 game ahead of No. 4-ranked Concordia and 2 ahead of Westmont. Vanguard falls to 5-12 overall, 1-6 in the GSAC.